FOUNTAIN LAKE COBRAS: Cobras ready to strike for conference title
August 26, 2012
It has been three years since the Fountain Lake Cobras won a Class 3A championship, in 2009. They followed that with two trips to the state playoff semifinals in 2010 and 2011.
Last year, the Cobras had eventual state champion Charleston on the ropes, scoring with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter to take the lead in their semifinal game. But Charleston answered quickly, scoring on a three-play drive with 25 seconds left to win 26-23. The Cobras didn’t help themselves with a holding call that brought back a 70-yard run and five turnovers.
This year, winning a conference championship in the 5-3A Conference is one of the biggest goals for the Cobras, coach Tommy Gilleran said. The team finished second in 2010 and 2011, losing one conference game in each season.
“We haven’t done that in two years,” Gilleran said about winning the conference. The Cobras owned a 22-game conference win streak before losing to Glen Rose in 2010, he said. Last season, the Cobras’ only conference loss was to Prescott, dropping a narrow 37-34 decision.
Prescott has moved to the 6-3A Conference, leaving Fountain Lake, Glen Rose and Jessieville as the top contenders for the conference crown. The Cobras will get to play both Glen Rose and Jessieville at home. Another game important for his team, Gilleran said, is a nonconference bout with Pottsville, a Class 4A team who will visit Fountain Lake.
“I think we can go anywhere between 8-2 and 10-0,” Gilleran said of his expectations for the regular season. “Glen Rose and Pottsville are two games that will be big for us. They have a lot of returning kids, and their expectations are right there with us. Maumelle (the Cobras’ season-opener opponent) will also be good, but we get them early, which is good.”
Experience will be key for the Cobras, who have five returning starters on offense and six on defense. Among the key returning offensive starters are senior fullback Mackenzie Ross and senior receiver Jordan Stone.
Ross rushed for 1,158 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. While the Cobras rushed for almost 3,200 yards from its Wing-T formation last season, Ross is the only returning starter in the backfield. Other key ball carriers from last season either graduated or left the team. Senior running back Colton Blake will start in the backfield.
Stone set a single-season receiving record for the school with 1,136 yards on 43 receptions. He also scored 16 touchdowns.
“Since I’ve been here, we hadn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver” until last year, Gilleran said.
All-state quarterback Michael Pope passed for 2,285 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, but he graduated. Senior James Cooper is stepping into the starter’s role, and Gilleran said he has worked hard to improve.
“He has a real strong arm,” the coach said of Cooper. “He’s been in the system since seventh grade. He worked all summer.”
As teams focus on stopping Ross, it will be important for Cooper to be able to find his receivers.
“He’s getting there. He’s getting better and better,” Gilleran said.
Regardless of whether the Cobras have a run or pass play called, their success will depend on the performance of an inexperienced offensive line. Only one starter, junior offensive guard Cole Murray, is back on the line to start the season. Senior tight end Dakota Weatherford will also play a key role on the line of scrimmage.
Gilleran said it will be important for the team to try to maintain a mix of rushing and passing that led them to success last season. When teams crowd the line to try to stop the Cobras’ rushing attack, the team will need to respond through the air consistently, he said.
Defensively, Gilleran said, the front seven will “be really good this year.” Murray and senior David Alford will fill the defensive tackle positions, while senior Ronnie Waggoner and Ross will play defensive end. Expect to see a lot of faces on the defensive line during games, however.
“On our defensive line, we’ll rotate the whole line every three or four plays,” Gilleran said. “We have so many teams who have passing offenses, we need to keep four fresh guys on the line.”
Seniors Ethan Obear, last season’s second-leading returning tackler; Andrew Barber, the leading returning tackler; and Cole Richards will be the starting linebackers.
Weatherford, the tight end, is the only returning starter in the secondary, where he will play safety.