Recently, longtime Cabot Panthers Head Coach Mike Malham announced that this will be his last season before retiring. The Pine Bluff Zebras get one last shot at Malham and the Panthers, as Cabot has beaten them in the past two season openers.
Pine Bluff Head Coach Bobby Bolding likes playing against Cabot to open the season mainly because of the Panthers' style of play. Cabot prides itself on playing physical, tough and methodical football. Bolding believes opening up against a team like Cabot only helps in the long run.
"We like playing them because they play physical football," Bolding said. "We want our kids to get accustomed to playing that type of football. They've only beaten us by a touchdown in the last two years. They'll have a numbers advantage on us, but we like playing them because it helps us for later in the year."
The battle in the trenches will be huge in deciding this one as Cabot has run their traditional Dead-T offense for decades. One of Pine Bluff's strengths heading into the season is their experience up front on the defensive line.
"I have a scouting report on them from 1983 when Malham was there, and they run the exact same plays," Bolding said. "You have to stay low and stay physical. He has a really great running back group. We have to be disciplined in the secondary and can't have guys wide open. We have to match their intensity and their physicality."
The play-action pass killed the Zebras in last season's matchup with Cabot as three of their two touchdowns were scored through the air. Bolding and his staff have implemented some things schematically in order to avoid letting guys get over the top for those big passing plays.
"We've done some things schematically to help with that because they sure got us on those three play actions," Bolding said. "Hopefully we've done some things to correct that."
Junior quarterback Tyler Foots was making his second career start the last time he lined up against Cabot, and Bolding hopes the year of maturity will help on the field in games. Previously, Cabot has loaded the box out of their 5-2 defensive scheme, and Bolding expects them to stick with that.
"They have piled the box up on us pretty much every year," Bolding said. "Tyler is a year older, and hopefully we can do more offensively than we were able to last year. We have to get guys out in space and not just continue slamming it in there at them."
On the other hand, Cabot will start a new quarterback. Tommy Oaks is no longer with the team.
"He can have a different quarterback every year and they'll look exactly the same," Bolding said. "The guy they had before Oaks is at Arkansas, and Oaks was a heck of an athlete himself."
In Cabot's Dead-T offense, they'll use five or six players as threats to run the ball, but out of all of their running backs, senior Tadariyan Rogers stands out the most to Bolding.
"He caught a couple passes and had some runs in the one drive where we had issues. He's a heck of a running back," Bolding said.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Cabot.