Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SPORTS>>Surprising Rockets invade Cabot

Leader sportswriter

What Cabot coach Mike Malham likes to describe as trench warfare will be on full display at Panther Stadium this Friday when Catholic High School visits for Week 2 of the 7A-Central Conference season to face the unbeaten Panthers.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Rockets (2-2, 1-0 conf.) have faced the toughest competition in the state so far, with close losses to top-ranked Fort Smith Southside as well as Northside in non-conference play, and wins over 6A Benton in Week 2 and last week’s league opening victory over Bryant.

“Catholic does a little bit of everything,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “It’s going to be our biggest test to date.

They’ve played some good competition. They’ve taken Northside and Southside down to the wire. It won’t be easy. Nothing’s going to be from here on out. It’s only going to get tougher every week.”

The Catholic offense has benefited from the strong play of junior quarterback Taylor Bartlett over the first month of the season. Bartlett led the charge during the Rockets’ big comeback over Bryant last week, finishing 19 of 23 for 239 yards and three touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Malham is looking for answers from his own offense. The numbers have been respectable, if sometimes ineffective. Last week, the Panther offense moved the chains consistently with 18 first downs and over 350 yards of total offense, but that translated into only three scores in a 21-7 win at Conway.

“We moved it well between the 20s,” Malham said. “We just weren’t producing scores. We had to settle for a field goal on one trip, and we had to have a fake punt just to keep another drive going. I don’t know that our offense is as good this year as what it was last year, and that’s a shame. We’ve got veteran linemen and eight of our starters back from last year. It’s a shame, because in this league, you’re going to have to score some points. There are a lot of good offenses out there.”

It’s not time to hit the panic button for Malham, but bringing in younger personnel at the interior is not out of the question.

“We’re not going to abandon ship,” Malham said. “But if some of those guys don’t start grading out better, we may go with some of our sophomores in those spots.

“It was kind of funny, because I didn’t think we moved the ball that much until I went back and looked at the film and said ‘golly’. We drove the ball, but then we had a holding penalty on one drive that hurt us. Another drive, we had fourth-and-nine and didn’t do anything. It was blown assignments, and several other mistakes. You have to have points to show for it when you move the ball like that. We’re just not happy with that situation right now.”

The saving grace for the Panthers so far this season has been their defense. Jacksonville scored a pair of touchdowns in Week 1, but every other opponent has been held to one score or less.

“We’re confident that our secondary can do well,” Malham said. “Right now, our offense has been hot and cold up to this point.

We had a couple of games where we didn’t even have to punt, and other games where we slowed down, but our defense has been pretty solid every week.”

Ethan Coffee and Justin Wortman were two Panther defenders who came up big last week. Coffee fell on an early Conway fumble that helped give the Panthers early momentum, and Wortman ended the Wampus Cats’ last-ditch effort with an interception that led to an insurance score.

The Panthers held Conway to only four first downs last Friday.

Since joining the 7A-Central Conference in 2006, Cabot has split with Catholic.

“Catholic has been a good series up to this point,” Malham said. “It’s probably pretty even. I don’t know the exact record, but we played them for many years non-conference up until about five or six years ago.”