Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

SPORTS >>Cabot hosts Devils to start season

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers and Jacksonville Red Devils no longer have two-and-a-half months to build up to their rivalry game like they did for so many years while in the same conference. Starting last year, the game was moved to week one, which has done nothing to take any steam off or lessen any of the intensity of the old rivalry game.

There’s always a story line to the game. In recent years, it’s been one team or the other trying to end a losing streak. That’s not the case this season, so that line has given way to the new one, one that Cabot coach Mike Malham summed up well.
“I guess this is the rubbermatch,” Malham said. “Our seniors and their seniors are 1-1 against each other, so I guess this is the one to decide that.”

Cabot won most recently, taking a big win in last seeason’s opener, and also ending a two-year losing streak to the Red Devils. Whatley doesn’t know if his team has the psychological advantage this year, being the team wanting revenge, but does expect his team’s best effort.

“Hopefully every time you step out there, you got that burning desire to succeed and play every game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Whatley said. “They were a very hungry team last year, this year we’re going to have to find that hunger and drive, because they’re better than they were last year.”

Malham also doesn’t think winning last year gives his team’s opponent any psychological edge, partly because of the rubbermatch mentality his team is bringing into the contest, but mostly because it’s week one.

“Everybody wants to win the first one,” Malham said. “Everybody wants to start 1-0 and nobody wants to start 0-1. We sure want to win the first one, it doesn’t matter much who we’re playing.”

Cabot has some advantages, but Malham believes Jacksonville does as well.

“They look pretty good,” Malham said. “They’ve got good skill position people. Their line may not be as big as it has been, but we sure can’t let them get loose because they’ve got speed in spots where we don’t have it.”

The Panthers big advantage is depth, and the news along those lines continues to get better for the home team. Last week Cabot got two starting offensive linemen back. This week they’ll get back a third lineman, tight end Blake Carter, as well as defensive lineman Kyle Deblock.

“There’s two more coming back for us so that’ll help,” Malham said. “That gives us a few more options. It could be an advantage for us. Jacksonville don’t look quite as big up front as they have been.”

Whatley also understands that his team will be at a disadvantage in depth, but that’s not his biggest concern.

“Cabot is Cabot and they’re going to make you play a perfect football game,” Whatley said. “The scheme they run is difficult to defend. They come off that line low and hard, the feet never die. We’re just going to have to be perfect.”

Besides Jacksonville’s speed, his own team’s youth is another concern for Malham. He’ll likely play more sophomores than Jacksonville has on the roster.

“They won’t have very many young guys out there,” Malham said. “We’ll have a bunch of them, and that is a concern because a game like this, a lot of times come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.”

For Jacksonville, depth may be the secondary concern, but it is still a concern. Much of Cabot’s depth is young, but it’s there. For Jacksonville that’s not the case at every position.

“That’s the one thing that is going to be tough on us,” Whatley said. “I do wonder how last Friday would have turned out if that was a complete ballgame, with them having so much more players than we have. Cabot’s going to have that same advantage, so we’re going to have to be ready. I thought our conditioning was improved from what it was at the Red-White game, but it’s going to have to get better.”

The Panthers and Red Devils will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium.