The last time El Dorado won its season opener was the 2017 football season. That was also the last time the Wildcats began the season 2-0, ironically, with a 28-24 win over Cabot in the second game.
El Dorado opened its season with a 40-36 win at Camden Fairview last week and will travel to face the 2-0 Panthers on Friday. Cabot beat Jonesboro 47-27 last week after downing Searcy 35-7 in its opener two weeks ago.
“Coming off the week one win, we’ve got some serious momentum heading into the second game of the season,” said El Dorado coach Steven Jones. “Our kids are excited for another opportunity to compete against a great opponent.”
Cabot won at Memorial Stadium 41-23 last season and return some of its top playmakers, including receiver Jay Braden, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Wildcats last year.
“(Braden) is a guy they try to get the ball to as much as they can. He is a big-time playmaker out in space,” said Jones. “He plays slot receiver for them. They’ll move him in motion. They’ll line him up in different spots to try to create mismatches, just get the ball out to him and let him go make plays. He had an impressive one-hand catch for a first down, keeping a drive alive and took, to my knowledge, his sixth kickoff return for a touchdown in his career.
“He’s a very dynamic guy. The thing that stands out about him, he always shakes the first tackle and in a number of different ways. On the kickoff return, the only guy who had a chance, he just ran through the tackle and never broke stride. He can also make a move and get around somebody. We’re going to know where number five is at on the field and where he’s lined up.”
Running back Mason Bell had a long touchdown run against Jonesboro. Quarterback Grant Freeman has been more of a passer than a runner.
“Their running back broke one early in the game. He took one for about 60 right down the middle of the field. He’s a hard-nosed kid that runs the football tough,” said Jones. “Through the first two games, the quarterback has improved his accuracy. Their offensive line does a good job in pass protection, giving the quarterback time to throw.”
Defensively, the Panthers were susceptible to the deep pass against the Hurricane. Jones said Jonesboro’s base out of a 3-3 stack alignment.
“On the defensive side of the ball, that try to create chaos. They send a lot of pressure. They move their defensive line a lot. They move their linebackers around,” he said. “They’re sending at least five, sometimes six on every snap. On the back end, they vary their coverages. Their (defensive backs) are very physical and they keep the ball in front. They tackle well in space.”
Jones said kicking game could play a pivotal role. On Wednesday, he said El Dorado’s kicker was still uncertain. Last week, senior linebacker Patrick Sixbey kicked 2-of-3 extra points.
“I think special teams are going to win the game. It’s always an important aspect of the game but Cabot is really good. We’re going to have to make some plays in that area,” said Jones.
In addition to returning a kickoff for a score, the coach said the Panthers also blocked a punt.
“They were very sharp in special teams. All three sides of the game, they made some big plays. They have a very good kicker, very good punter. Overall, there’s a reason they’re ranked right behind Bryant as the No. 2 team in Class 7A. They’re very sound in what they do, very efficient. It’s going to be a challenge. We’re looking forward to playing against a great team.”