Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SPORTS >> Championship still within Cabot’s reach

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

It may be a good sign that Cabot coach Mike Malham still has a sense of humor, even though there wasn’t much to laugh about in last Friday’s surprising, 35-7 loss on the muddy grounds at Bryant.

“It’s just one of them things, man,” Malham said. “It’s a good thing this is just a game. When you win, football is everything.

When you lose, it’s just a game.”

Cabot’s loss, its only one this season, came largely because of Bryant running back Chris Rycraw who, despite the mud, lit up the Panthers for 188 yards and four touchdowns.

Even subtracting Bryant’s kickoff return for a touchdown that opened the game, and the ensuing onside kick the Hornets recovered that led to another score, Rycraw would have been the decisive factor.

“We had kids that just missed tackles all night long,” Malham said. “Rycraw made people miss. At times we didn’t play real good technique and went around blocks. You give a good running back a little seam and he’s going to take you.”

Heavy rain during the week and a Thursday night junior high game helped turn the natural grass surface at Hornets Stadium into something resembling modeling clay, leaving Cabot looking considerably slower than its host.

“I don’t know if the muddy field, mentally, that had something to do with it,” Malham said. “But both teams played on it. They certainly handled it better than we did, that’s for sure.”

With its victory, Bryant forced a four-way tie atop the 7A-Central with Cabot, Russellville and North Little Rock. All four are 4-1 in the conference, though Cabot has won its head-to-head match-up with North Little Rock.

Bryant plays North Little Rock this week, and Cabot, after playing host to Van Buren in its home finale this week, travels to Russellville to close out the regular season.

“It’s all still there for the taking,” Malham said of a conference title.

But the Panthers (7-1) need to turn in a better effort than they did on Friday.

Logan Garland took the opening kickoff 85 yards up the left sideline to open the game, then Sammill Watson fell on Jace Denker’s onside kick at the Cabot 42, setting up a drive Rycraw capped with a 23-yard, broken field run that made it 14-0 with 8:57 left in the quarter.

Cabot was down 28-0 at halftime and didn’t score until Matt Bayles turned in a 23-yard run with 2:12 left in the third quarter.

“They played and we didn’t,” Malham said of Bryant. “The got after it. I don’t know, it was just one of those nights. Nothing seemed to go right from the opening kickoff and it seemed to get worse.

“I don’t know where our kids’ minds were at. We didn’t play. Not only were we supposed to be one of the best teams in the state, we looked like about the worst team in the state.”

More than anything, Malham said, the Panthers need to sharpen their tackling.

From a mental standpoint, they need to sharpen their focus.

“Maybe it’s a wake-up call,” Malham said. “Maybe the kids will wake up and see, hey, you’ve got to be ready to play every night. You’re not just going to walk on the field and have people lie down for you.”

Malham noted that at least the loss came now, when there are still games to play, than in the postseason, when one loss means the end of the season.

“They’ve got a chance to have a great season, they’ve got a chance to have an average season,” he said. “They’ve got to decide what to do with it.”

Malham said the worst Cabot could do, if it wins its next two games, is to finish as a co-champion and still earn a first-round bye and second-round home playoff game.

Either North Little Rock or Bryant is assured of a second conference loss this week, and if the Panthers beat Van Buren on Friday it could set up a showdown for the 7A-Central championship at Russellville at the end of the year.

If head-to-head play doesn’t break a tie, additional tiebreakers are based on points scored in conference games, with the cutoff at 13.

“Right now, you just have to wait and see,” Malham said. “If it ends up in a three-way tie you look at points. I’m not worried about points right now. We just want to get another win on Friday night. Winning takes care of everything.”