The Cabot Panthers are playing a different Little Rock Central team when they meet in the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Cabot, the top seed in the Central conference, had a bye while the Tigers beat two-time defending state champion Fayetteville 34-28 in the first round last week. The Panthers (10-0) beat the Tigers 35-20 on Oct. 18 at Panther Stadium.
"Central’s got good athletes," Cabot coach Mike Malham said. "They can play with a lot of people. There is nothing wrong with them. They’ve gotten better and are getting more confidence. That was a big win for them and I’m sure it’s going to be a lot tougher this time than it was the last time."
Malham said his team didn’t run away from Central in the first meeting.
"We beat them two scores and we really played the starters the whole game," he said. "We were up 12 points at the end and ended up kicking a field goal because of the 13-point tie breaker rule. They might hold that against us. We need to get ready to play."
Against Fayetteville, Central quarterback Cooper Westbrook threw a touchdown pass to Logan Moragne to break a 28-28 tie late in the fourth quarter.
"They beat Fayetteville, which is a good team," Malham said.
The Cabot coach said he hopes his team is ready for the challenge of the playoffs.
"We feel like we’ve got just as good a chance as anybody to win the whole thing," Malham said. "There are eight teams left. You can’t give the game away. So, hopefully, mentally, we’re going to get on that field and play our best. And if someone beats, they beat us and we don’t beat ourselves.
"That is the worst thing that can happen."
Malham said the Panthers are looking forward to the challenge.
"Central is the only thing I can see right now," he said. "I’m not even worried about who we might play in the next round. If you look one step ahead, you’re probably not going to be there."
The winner of the Cabot-Central game plays the winner of North Little Rock and Bryant in the state semifinals Nov. 29.
Malham is hoping to have his leading tackler, Jake Vaughn, back in the lineup. He missed the Jonesboro and Searcy games with an illness.
"I’m not sure if we will get him back this Friday or not," he said. "Other than that, we should be in good shape. Missing your leading tackler isn’t good. But we’ve won the last two games without him. Jack Whisker has filled in and done a good job. Hopefully, Jake will be back and we will have some depth there."
Kickoff for Friday’s game is 7 p.m. Admission is $6. Only Arkansas Activities Association passes will be accepted.