Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SPORTS >> Hurting Cabot meets Conway

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

A week ago, Cabot had depth it could brag about.

This week, depth is a concern.

Starting senior linebackers Michael James and Spencer Neumann are nursing injuries that could cause them to miss the 7A-Central Conference opener against Conway at Panther Stadium on Friday.

“Last year we came in 3-0 and they came in 0-3 and we struggled to a 21-7 win,” Malham said. “They didn’t have that good of a year and we struggled. This is going to be our first real test of the year. And what spooks me about it is we’re without Neumann and James.”

James, who missed the beginning of the season with a shoulder injury, hurt his ankle in his first start at Little Rock Hall last week and is certain to sit out against the Wampus Cats. Neumann’s status was in doubt after he sustained what could either be a neck or shoulder injury in Cabot’s 48-0 victory in Little Rock.

“We thought it was a stinger but boy, Saturday he couldn’t hardly turn his neck,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said of Neumann. “Right now, if we were playing today, he wouldn’t be able to play.”

James did not play at all in the season opener against Jacksonville and saw limited action in the second game against Sylvan Hills, and then he hurt his ankle against Hall.

“We thought it was broke. X-rays showed it wasn’t,” Malham said.

Malham said James, who with Neumann is also part of the Panthers’ running back rotation, was walking on the ankle Monday but was not going to be ready Friday.

With Spencer Smith leading the way, Cabot’s backfield is still sound with a mix of Hunter Sales, Chase Campbell, Andre Ausejo and Jeremy Berry.

“We still have all our starters and Berry, but without James and Neumann, our depth isn’t very good,” Malham said.

The main concern, Malham said, is linebacker.

“We sure feel uncomfortable there without Neumann there calling the signals,” Malham said.

Junior Riley Hawkins, who started the season opener, will play one linebacker spot and sophomore Chase Boyle will play the other, Malham said.

“He’s played quite a bit in all three games,” Malham said. “When Neumann had the ankle early in the year, and then James went down, he worked his way up. That will help a little bit.”

Cabot outscored Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Hall by a combined 118-13 in the Panthers’ first three victories. Conway has gone 1-2 against a schedule that featured 7A-West members Bentonville and Fort Smith Southside and 6A-South member Benton, which the Wampus Cats beat 45-0 for their first victory Friday.

“They’ve played real good people,” Malham said. “They’ve played people we haven’t played.”

It may help the Panthers that this week’s game is at home, but Malham doesn’t expect home-field advantage to mean much.

“All football fields run 100 yards long and 160 feet wide,” he said. “I don’ think that has a lot to do with it unless you’ve got to get on a bus and travel three hours.”