Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

SPORTS >>Panthers expecting one Bear of a game

By RAY BENTON AND JASON KING
Leader sports staff

Cabot will make the short journey south this Friday to face former conference mates Sylvan Hills at Bill Blackwood Field. The series between the Bears and Panthers may not have all the natural elements that make up a rivalry like Cabot and Jacksonville, or Cabot and Conway, but make no mistake about the history between the two schools. This game has been as heated of a rivalry as almost any other in the state over the years.

The Panthers are coming off of one of their biggest opening-week wins in several years against Jacksonville, downing their interstate rivals in a 42-0 runaway. The Bears will enter 0-1 after a disappointing loss last Wednesday to Little Rock Catholic after outplaying their larger opponent for much of the first half.

Cabot coach Mike Malham couldn’t find much to complain about from his team’s performance last week, but hopes the easy win doesn’t satisfy his players.

“There’s always things to work on,” Malham said. “The potential is there with this bunch if they want to work at it and get better. If they want to be happy with the one game and think they can just show up and win, we won’t accomplish much. If they want to work hard, we might be someone to contend with later in the season.”

Depth would be deciding factor in the SH loss to the Rockets, and looks to be a strong consideration for this Friday’s Bears-Panthers contest. With a roster that goes some 35 players deeper than that of Sylvan Hills, longtime Panthers coach Mike Malham and company look to be sitting in the catbird’s seat for the second week in a row.

“They’ve got a bunch of good kids,” Malham said. “They’re playing a lot of them both ways and I think that hurt ‘em in the end against Catholic. They’ve got some athletes though and we’re going to have to play smart.”

The obvious issue of depth, Withrow says, is one that is beyond his or his team’s control when it comes to Cabot.

“It’s just one of those deals,” Withrow said. “You just have to move your guys around to some different spots from where they normally play. We’re in great shape, we just don’t have enough bodies. They will have most of their guys only going one way, and a lot of our guys will go both ways. It makes it tough; we will definitely have our hands full.”

For the Bears, learning against top-notch opponents is the name of the game during the first three weeks of the season. The Catholic game, combined with this week’s showdown with Cabot and a week three meeting against North Little Rock, makes the Sylvan Hills pre-conference schedule one of the least envied in the state. For first-year Bears coach Jim Withrow, however, the unenviable schedule now is believed to lead to a more envious position during the final weeks of the conference season.
“What’s positive about these games,” Withrow said, “is that we will be a lot better football team after seeing those teams. There won’t be any plays off; anybody can score against you on any given play.”

Giving up zero points in week one was a good accomplishment for Cabot, but Malham knows how difficult a shutout is, and how quickly things can change on one play.

“The defense didn’t play bad,” Malham said. “When you throw a goose egg out there you’ve done pretty good. They did break one, but little (senior cornerback Hunter) Hess chased him down, and that was a big play. That would have put them right back in the game. I think it would have tied it 7-7. Momentum plays a big role and if Hess don’t make that play, it could be a whole different ballgame.

First on Cabot’s agenda for this week is stopping Sylvan Hills quarterback Hunter Miller. Miller broke a 40-yard touchdown run on fourth down against Cabot last season, and Malham believes he looks just as dangerous this year.

“They’ve got one good quarterback that’s for sure,” Malham said. “He broke one against us last year and he broke a couple on Catholic. He’s not the only one they’ve got though. They’ve got a few kids that have some speed that we’re going to have to be ready for.”

The Panthers and Bears kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday evening.