File photo by Rick Nation
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Of all of the Bryant Hornets’ current rivals, the longest standing is the series with the Cabot Panthers. It stands to reason. The cities of Bryant and Cabot, as well as their school districts, have grown on parallel paths.
When they started playing in 1953 both were members of Class A. They’re now among the largest schools in the state and competing in Class 7A.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed are the mascots and Cabot’s offense.
The Panthers still run the old dead-T, which was all the rage back then with its multiple pronged running attack, quick dives, sweeps, traps and options with a full-house backfield and deceptive ballhandling. But, instead of three yards and a cloud of dust, in this day of artificial surfaces, it’s three yards and a cloud of rubber beads.
Of course, that may change next season. Longtime head coach Mike Malham, the mastermind of the dead-T, is retiring after the season. Last week, he picked up his 300thcareer victory as a head coach with the Panthers’ 41-21 win over Little Rock Central.
And that may play a role in how Cabot performs this week. Trying to get that 300thwin for their coach, the Panthers had lost four in a row. With the milestone accomplished, they may play a little looser, more relaxed.
One of the advantages of that old offense is that, each week, the opposition has to prepare for something they never see, otherwise, with so many teams running the spread offense now.
“The good thing is that our kids get to see it from, really, the seventh grade all the way up,” noted Hornets head coach Buck James.
“They’re really good at what they do,” he continued. “They always are. Offensively, they are the same every year. Sometimes they pitch it more. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the quarterback’s more of an option guy and some years he’s not. This is one of those years, they can do a little bit of everything. They’ve got a little speed back there and they’re very good at what they do. When they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’re a good football team.
“Our work’s cut out,” the coach asserted. “Our guys have got to be sharp. They’ve got to be physical and they’ve got to play with a lot of energy.”
The nature of the Cabot offense is ball control, shortening games, limiting the opponent’s opportunities on offense. Last year when the Hornets held on for a 17-10 win at home, they got just five possessions and Cabot had just four.
“It’s a situation where our football team has to go out there defensively and get stops and keep them behind the chains,” James related. “We’ve got to win first down, and we’ve got to be able to get them off the field, make them punt or turn it over on downs, whatever the case may be, and get our offense back out there.
“We tell our kids we want a 10 to 12 possession game and that plays more in our favor than a five or six possession game,” he explained. “So, our guys have got to understand the sense of urgency. When we get the ball on offense, we need to score. We need to make them try to hurry up and not be the methodical team they want to be. We want it to be a high scoring game on our end then I think our defense can just pin their ears back and play football.”
That grind-it-out offense is part of the Cabot defense, which takes an old school approach as well.
“They’re really a seven-man front,” James said. “It’s an old 50 defense. That’s all we saw back in the day. They play a lot of cover three, play a little bit of quarters but, against a three-deep secondary, we should be able to throw the football.
“We’ve really got to be able to take advantage of what they give us,” he added. “And that changes from play to play. Our offensive linemen have got to do a great job of being able to block seven people with five people. Our receivers have got to run their routes extremely hard and fast then catch the football because we’re not going to have as much time as we normally would.
“It’s a big challenge for our football team both on offense and defense,” the coach stated.
The Hornets have had 14 different receivers catch passes from Ren Hefley and Austin Ledbetter this season, led by Jake Meaders with 22 grabs and River Gregory with 14. Grant Botti is coming off his best game of the season with five catches and Miles Aldridge was productive as well in the Hornets’ 31-14 win at Fort Smith Southside.
Hefley is just 25 yards or so from passing for over 1,000 yards this season. Tailback Latavion Scott rushed for over 200 yards last week and stands 115 or so from eclipsing 1,000 for the second year in a row.
Bryant has a size advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
It is Homecoming for the Hornets who are 6-1 overall this season, 4-0 in the 7A-Central Conference.