Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SPORTS>>Panthers prepare for long trip west

Leader sportswriter

A long bus ride is in store for the Cabot Panthers this week when they make the trek to Blakemore Field in Van Buren to face a much-improved Pointers team on Friday.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Van Buren (2-6, 2-3 conf.) is coming off a big 28-10 win over Conway, while the Panthers (7-1, 4-1 conf.) outlasted Bryant in a 14-0 defensive struggle.

Both teams have much to play for with two games left in the regular season, for slightly different reasons. A win for Cabot this week would set up the likely 7A-Central Conference title game next week against Russellville, while an upset win for the
Pointers would not only move them up in the conferencestandings, but also provide a huge shot of confidence for first-year coach Mike Lee and company.

“We’re pretty excited about this one,” Lee said. “We don’t have a lot of big-type games like this one over here that often, so we’re excited about the opportunity. But if you look at Cabot on film, they’ll scare you to death.”

Van Buren is not loaded with weapons, but have a consistent quarterback in David Ostrander. The senior led the way against the Wampus Cat defense last week with 157 yards passing and an additional 83 yards on the ground. All four Pointer touchdowns came through the air.

“He’s very instinctive,” Lee said of Ostrander. “He’s already broken most of the school’s passing records, but we like to run with him too. We try to be multiple yet simplistic with everything we do on offense. We strive for balance.”

Only 30 yards separate the Pointers’ rushing and passing totals.

“It will be a good challenge for our defense,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They do a lot of different things with their offense. They run with the option and spread it out, and it looks like they’re about 50-50 with what they do. Their quarterback does a good job. He throws well, runs well.

“It isn’t a lack of scoring for them. They’ve moved the ball and put points up all year. They have kind of a different look and do some things that we haven’t seen yet this year.”

The Van Buren team of the previous eight years might have been simply a warm up for Cabot on its way to face Russellville in Week 10, but Malham recognizes the Pointers as contenders this season, and also acknowledges that the Central Conference title is still very much in doubt.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Malham said. “If we don’t win out these last two weeks, we could go down from a No. 2 to a No. 4, so we just have to be ready. Other than that, we have to wait two weeks until all the dust settles and see where everyone stands.”

The Cabot offense won’t be confused with Van Buren’s multiple attack, but quarterback Seth Bloomberg had a career night passing for the Panthers against Bryant. The junior completed 7 of 10 pass attempts for 90 yards, including one for a touchdown and another that was good for 35 yards to Justin Wortman, which set up the second Cabot touchdown of the night.

The predictability of the Cabot offense doesn’t give Lee much comfort, however.

“It’s the big ones beating their way through to make room for the little ones is what it is,” Lee said of the Cabot offense. “It doesn’t matter the situation, you just need to know they’re about to come downhill on you. Coach Malham is a little smarter than most of us. He’s adapted, which means you just can’t keep a bead on the base that they run because they throw a lot of other stuff in there too.”

While next week’s potentially title-clinching battle with Russellville is in the back of everyone’s mind, there’ll be no overlooking the Pointers this Friday.

“You look at them on film, and they’ve moved the ball well in every game they’ve played,” Malham said. “You can’t take anyone for granted or give any-one an easy touchdown. We hope they give us some easy scores, but they’ve really turned things around from the start of the season.

“They put up 28 last week against Conway, which is more than what we got.”