SPORTS >>Cabot, Cyclones playing for pride
Leader sports editor
The Cabot Panthers can’t make the playoffs, but they still have a lot to play for this Thursday when they close the season hosting Russellville. The Panthers are 5-4 and still have a chance to finish with a winning record and head into offseason on a positive note. Cabot head coach Mike Malham expects the team to play hard despite the fact that the game has no playoff implications. He’s rarely seen his team play any differently, so he’s not expecting anything different this week.
“I think our kids have played pretty well,” Malham said. “I can’t fault anything they’ve done all year except what we did in the Conway game. I don’t know what happened there. We just didn’t show up to play. Other than that, take away five turnovers in the first half against North Little Rock, we played Central down to the wire and should have beat them but the kicking game broke down. Defense held Bryant to seven points when they’d been averaging 30 something. When you consider where they started what’s happened to them this year, that’s pretty darn good.”
The Panther defense, which has consisted of several sophomores since the conference opener against Conway, has given up just 21 points over the last three games. Two of those games came against Bryant and Central, the two undefeated teams that meet this week to decided the conference championship.
Casey Carlisle suffered a broken collarbone last week against Pine Bluff, making him the seventh Panther that started game one to suffer a season-ending injury. Last week, Cabot played five players both ways and started seven sophomores. They have been in this predicament since early in the season, and still have a chance to finish with a winning record.
“I think the kids have done a tremendous job,” Malham said. “I don’t fault ‘em for effort at all. When you think about it, they came really close to doing something amazing. Now we’re going to try to get to 6-4 and head into offseason with a lot of sophomores that played a lot and got some good experience and performed well. We’ve got a few juniors but not very many.”
To get to 6-4, the Panthers will have to beat a dangerous Russ-ellville team. Cyclone coach Jeff Holt might say his team is more dangerous to itself than to anyone else. Russellville has moved the ball against everyone it’s played, but hasn’t been able to come away with many victories.
“At times we’ve played well,” Holt said. “We just seem to do things at critical times to get ourselves beat. We’ve been in every ballgame, we just can’t seem to finish.” This game was almost for a potential playoff spot. Russellville let Conway come back from a 14-point deficit to win in overtime last week. Had Russellville won, both teams in this game would still be playing for the postseason. As it is, Conway has locked up the No. 4 seed from the Central Conference.
Like Malham, Holt doesn’t expect his players to give any less effort this week. “Every week we’ve gone to work,” Holt said. “The kids have practiced well. They give us what they’ve got. I don’t expect that to change any.” Holt’s Cyclones are a young team with only 12 seniors on the roster, but the head coach isn’t using that as an excuse at this point in the season.
“At some point we’ve got to grow up,” Holt said.
Russellville will be seeing an offense it hasn’t seen yet this year, and this is always a concern for opposing coaches. “It’s extremely hard to simulate what they do,” Holt said. “They’re very good at what they do and it’s very hard to get your players to understand what they’ll be up against.”
Malham knows what his team will be up against, and so do his players. Russellville runs the spread offense, which has become quite common nowadays. Russellville has been running it for years, and put 43 points the last time it brought its version of the spread to Cabot.
“We played ‘em here a couple years ago and that offense was phenomenal,” Malham said. “They throw it well and run it well. They’ve moved it on everyone they’ve played, they’ve just had a lot turnovers. We can’t count on that. We’re going to have to move the ball or we’re in trouble because they’re going to move it. If we play like we did against Bryant we’re in trouble. If we play offense like we did against Pine Bluff and Central, we can win the ballgame.”