SPORTS >> Panthers set to battle regrouping Bears
Leader sports editor
Hopes, apparently, are high as Cabot prepares to play host to Sylvan Hills at Panther Stadium on Friday.
Cabot coach Mike Malham hopes his reconstructed offensive line continues the strong play it showed in the Panthers’ 35-6 victory over Jacksonville on Sept. 1.
“I hope that’s a sign to come and not a fluke,” Malham said.
Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow is hoping a different team, at least in spirit, climbs onto the team bus for the trip to Cabot than the team that suffered a 31-7 setback to Malvern in Friday’s season opener.
“I’m hoping we can learn from it and come back with a little bit of enthusiasm and passion to play,” Withrow said. “We just kind of showed up and went through the motions, which is pretty surprising for your first game. Lots of mental mistakes and things that could be corrected that would have kept us in the game in all three phases.”
The Bears only managed 108 total yards against the Leopards, gave up 93 yards and three touchdowns to Malvern back Dontail Henson and suffered a critical roughing-the-kicker penalty and a fumble.
“I do like our skill guys but they made some mistakes as well Friday,” Withrow said. “Turning it over and they dropped some balls.”
Withrow said he was going to move some personnel around to get some bigger bodies on the offensive line to contend with Cabot, of the larger 7A-Central Conference. Sylvan Hills plays in the 5A-Southeast.
Malham, on the other hand, was pleasantly surprised at how well his six new offensive linemen performed against Jacksonville. Behind the blocking, the Panthers rolled up 328 total yards and had 17 first downs.
“There weren’t as many mistakes as I thought there would be,” Malham said. “For six new faces they did a pretty good job.”
With senior fullback Michael James sitting out the opener, junior Spencer Smith shouldered the load with 110 yards and three scores on 22 carries. Malham said Smith brought a strong preseason effort, which included a benefit game against Lake Hamilton, into the regular season.
“He had looked good in practice, he had looked good against Lake Hamilton,” Malham said. “So I was pleased he looked good in a real game. He’s just a junior and that looks good for next year too.”
Malham expects James to get some repetitions this week as he eases back into action.
James gained 1,261 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last year.
“James dressed out Monday,” Malham said. “He’s been cleared. We’ll see how it feels. If things bother him we’ll pull him out.”
James’ presence may be an extra headache for Withrow, but it’s all about getting as much competition as the Bears can stand before their conference schedule begins.
“If you can compete with them and hang around it helps you down the road,” Withrow said.
“We’ve kind of never backed down from any of it and that’s kind of been the philosophy here. But we also understand that shoot, they’ve got 1,300 more students than we do,” Withrow added.
“That’s the deal. It’ all non-conference; we’re just trying to work on stuff and get better and get ready for conference,” the Sylvan Hills coach said.
Malham is also looking for experience to grow on and is waiting to see his defense against Sylvan Hills’ spread.
“We’re going to see a lot more of that throughout the year,” Malham said. “Defensively, we’ve just got to play our base and know our responsibilities and where we’re supposed to be and everybody fly to the ball.”
Malham expects the Bears to put eight or nine on the line of scrimmage to stop the Panthers’ dead T offense. But he said that won’t change Cabot’s approach.
“I don’t know if we’re as athletic as Malvern,” Malham said. “But we’re going to do what we do best and that’s try to pound it and if they get sucked inside, get outside on the option.”