Cabot: Panthers aim for conference 4-peat

It should have surprised no one, but for some reason, it did.

“Last year’s 6-1 conference record and a piece of the 7A-Central championship was a pleasant surprise,” coach Michael Malham said. “It gave our seniors three consecutive 7A-Central championships.”

The Panthers got an early drubbing from rival Conway in Week 4, 41-17, but things fell into place for Cabot later in the season.

“Beating Bryant in Week 8 after they had knocked off Conway the week before put us back in a tie for the conference race,” Malham said.

Cabot won a first-round playoff game over Heritage at home, 31-13, but the Panthers were bounced the following week at Fort Smith Southside, 28-7.

The road to a fourth consecutive conference title will be tough as Cabot returns only four starters on offense: quarterback Zach Craig (6-2, 185), tailback Mason Haley (5-9, 195) and linemen David Boatright (6-0, 280) and Hayden Studdard (5-8, 240). All four are seniors.

“We have lots of inexperience on offense with only four starters back,” Malham said. “We could possibly have four sophomores starting on the offensive line! Defense has a little more experience with five starters back. We have to grow up quick.”

Senior Bryson Morris (5-9, 180) is the Panthers’ only returning starter in the secondary. Morris recorded 30 tackles and three interceptions a year ago. Chase Boyles returns at linebacker. The senior finished second on the team in 2010 with 105 tackles.

“Our strength will be our work ethic,” Malham said. “Our kids worked very hard in the offseason. Thirty-one kids power cleaned 225 pounds or better. But our weakness would be our youth and inexperience. We only have 13 seniors.

“We hope to be in the thick of the conference race again, but North Little Rock, Conway, Central and Bryant are very talented.”