By Tony Burns
Cabot has only played one football game this season. But, a 35-14 win over Pine Bluff is impressive on any resume. The Panthers travel to Memorial Stadium tonight to take on El Dorado (1-1) in the final non-conference match-up for the Wildcats.
El Dorado is coming off a 46-20 win over Camden Fairview.
Cabot, led by legendary Coach Mike Malham, who plans to retire at the end of the season, brings a black-and-white style into a color world. The Panthers use a run-oriented Dead-T offense and a run-stuffing 50 front defense.
The Wildcats have split the last two seasons with Cabot, winning on the road, 28-24, last year. Two years ago, the Panthers, led by current Arkansas Razorback Jarrod Barnes, won 28-13 in Memorial Stadium.
Offensively, footage of Cabot probably appears grainy - two tight ends, three backs.
“They didn’t even split anybody out. They were two tight on every snap,” said El Dorado coach Scott Reed. “They’re bigger up front. Their backs are returning. I know Coach Malham thinks this is the best group of backs he’s had. They’re just methodical. I think in one half, Pine Bluff got the ball, like, twice. I mean, they just kept making three, four, six. And then if you don’t score one time, you feel like you’re behind.”
Last week, Cabot had as many punts as passes. The Panthers were 0-for-1 through the air.
“The key to playing somebody like that is getting off to a good start and not getting behind. When you get behind them, then you have to take chances and you give up big runs. Where, if you’re ahead of them, they have to take chances,” said Reed. “They don’t like doing that. They don’t like throwing it or spreading it out. You want to dictate how the game should be played.”
Cabot’s offense is triggered by quarterback Jesse Windemaker. He’s joined in the backfield by fullback Graham Turner (5-8, 175) and halfbacks Brad Morales (5-10, 170) and Tadariyan Rogers (5-7, 165). Reed said Rogers is the most explosive.
The key could be the offensive line, which isn’t overly large but, with two tight ends, is technically sound in what it does.
“It’s just what they do and how low their pad level is and how they come off and engage you. It’s not a stand up and hands game, it’s a pads game with them. It’s down and it’s physical. It’s old school,” said Reed. “When somebody executes that stuff real well, it’s quick. It’s not slow. They’re hitting you quick. If you watch real close to what they’re doing, a lot of times the guard is pulling and wrapping real tight and they’re getting an angle to block down on somebody. They’re running right off that edge and hugging it tight where it’s hard to find them. It’s hard to simulate in practice and it’s totally different than the way you’re used to playing.”
Reed said the attack includes some option but also emphasizes the inside run game with the belly series.
“They’re happy to keep making four or five. They’re very patient,” said Reed, who said the quarterback is a perfect fit. “He’s good with the ball. He’s reading some of that stuff on the edge and all of a sudden he pulls it and you’re not accounting for him or he pitches it. You’ve got to be real disciplined with your eyes and doing what your key tells you to do. Otherwise, they’ll have somebody running wide open down the field.”
Offensively, El Dorado has averaged more than 40 points per game.
Tonight, however, the Wildcats face a defense determined to stop the run.
“They’re going to line up with a 50 front, a zero nose, head up with a guy on your center and two guys on your tackles, play a lot of man coverage and say, ‘Here we are, come try to whip us.’ They’re going to engage your center and your tackles every snap and be physical. They play five guys up a lot on the line and live in a lot of man coverage concepts behind it,” said Reed. “If you hit ‘em on a pass or throw it over the top, they just jog off the field and say, ‘So what, you got one. But, you’re not running it.’ And, they keep making you have to make plays. They figure, eventually, they’re going to get enough of them. They’re going to get the ball or they’re going to hit your quarterback enough and they’re going to live with it. Cabot’s whole deal, they’re going to possess the ball and run it. And, they’re not going to let you do that.”
Reed said the Wildcats still hope to be balanced.
On the perimeter, El Dorado’s receivers will have to beat man-to-man coverage, though. Eliminating lost-yardage plays will also be key especially with an opposing offense whose goal is to keep the ball and wear down a defense.
“We have to be productive offensively. We can’t have three-and-outs and put our guys back out there,” said Reed. “I think the first half is going to be really critical.”
Reed said kicking game could also be a factor.
The Wildcats have missed PATs in each of the first two weeks and given up yardage on kickoff returns.
As for Cabot’s old school offense, the key to the entire game for El Dorado could be getting off the field on defense and, somehow, forcing the Panthers to put the ball in the air.
Even if faced with a third-and-5, Reed said Cabot will still stick to its run game.
“Yeah, because if they get to fourth-and-one or -two, they’re going to run it again,” he said. “Coach Malham has been running this a long time. He understands how his system works and what it takes for them to win. He’s going to fake punt you. We’ve played him three times, I’ll bet he’s fake punted every year. And, he’s going to have a couple of play-actions off of it and we have to just make sure we don’t go to sleep. Even if he throws two or three times to start the game, he’s still going to end up 90 percent run. That’s what it’s going to come down to, can you get them off the field?”