Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

SPORTS>> Bounce-back time for Cabot

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

A couple of 7A powerhouses will try to keep their Central Conference title hopes alive on Friday night when North Little Rock visits Cabot for a 7 p.m. tilt.

Cabot will be trying to bounce back from its first loss of the season — a thrilling 35-28 setback to Little Rock Catholic last Friday night at Panther Stadium. The Panthers’ fourth-down play from the Rocket 6-yard line failed on the final play of the game.

“It was an exciting game to watch,” said Panther head coach Mike Malham. “It probably wasn’t so much fun for the Cabot side at the end. But the game (against North Little Rock) is a lot bigger now than before we lost.”

It’s big for the Charging Wildcats, as well. North Little Rock, which has proved to be a defensive dynamo this season, rebounded last week from its first loss of the season by hanging on for an 18-10 win over winless Conway. North Little Rock, boasting a fast and huge defense, has surrendered just 36 points all season, limited Conway to 129 total yards.

“They have more size than we do,” Malham said. “We’re going with a smaller lineup and we’re going to have to knock them off the ball. It’s going to be trench warfare, for sure.”

That Cabot offensive line had perhaps its best game of the season against Catholic, allowing Michael James to run for 114 yards and four touchdowns, while Chris Bayles added 89 yards.

“We were better offensively than we were against Conway (the previous week),” Malham said. “We’ve had nights where we’ve struggled. Hopefully, we’re getting more consistent. The offensive line definitely got off the ball better.”

Against North Little Rock, the Panthers will be facing a fast and big defense. None bigger than 355 pound nose-guard Darius Hudson, a transfer from Little Rock Central.

“Hudson moves as well as any guy that size I’ve ever coached,” said North Little Rock head coach Brad Bolding. “If he loses a little weight, he could play anywhere.”

They’ve also got a great defensive end in Anthony Rogers and linebackers and defensive backs that run extremely well. For Dead-T-dedicated Cabot, it may be a case of having to mix things up more than usual. The Panthers threw the ball effectively against Catholic.

As good as the Charging Wildcats have been defensively, their offense has been spotty at best. They’re putting up only 13 points per game in compiling a 4-1 overall record. But they have the weapons to do some damage, including four solid receivers in Darius Walton and Donald James, and a solid quarterback in David Hope. Hope threw for 175 yards against Conway.

North Little Rock likes to run a little more than it throws but only by a little. It is a very balanced offense.

“The offensive line is better this year, but not anywhere where we want it to be,” Bolding said.

The Wildcats got 259 yards of offense in a 17-14 Week 4 loss to Russellville and 285 yards last Friday. North Little Rock managed only 219 total yards in a 7-6 win over Sylvan Hills earlier in the season.

“Offensively, they haven’t scored a lot of points, but they have weapons,” Malham warned. “They’re balanced, a lot like Catholic and we’ve got to be able to cover it all. They can break one off at anytime. I just hope they don’t get it all together on Friday.”

Bolding said the added speed of Cabot this season makes them even more formidable.

“What Cabot does is unique,” Bolding said. “They’re tough to stop. You have to try to force them into second and long or third and long. But this year, they’ve shown they can throw the ball and they have a quarterback that can do it. It makes them even tougher to defend.”

For Malham, there were things to be happy about despite suffering the first loss of the season. He credited Catholic receivers with making exceptional plays, even with Cabot defensive backs being in good position.

“It’s a game that could have gone either way,” Malham said. “They just made some great catches. Catholic has two losses, but against two of the top teams in the state.

“Whoever comes out of our game Friday 1-2 is not going to be in very good shape. It never gets any easier in this conference.

I’ll be surprised if anybody goes undefeated.”