BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
With arguably its two toughest regular season challenges on the horizon, surging Malvern’s bye this Friday night comes just at the right time.
The Leopards (6-1, 3-0 in Class 4A Region 7 action) are using this week to get healthy and rest up ahead of games at Nashville (5-2, 2-1) and home against Arkadelphia (6-0, 3-0).
“It’s really going to help,” Malvern head coach J.D. Plumlee said. “We hope to be playing in late November and into December and so this is kind of our last little chance for some fresh air and kind of get back to some fundamentals.
“We also have some guys that are banged up with some ankles and some wrists that can take the week off, get healthy and get ready to go.”
Malvern, who features junior offensive lineman and Arkansas offer Vinnie Winters (6-5, 300), heads into the off week after 47-14 win over Mena in a game that extended the team’s winning streak to three.
The Lepoards had downed Ashdown in convincing 48-21 fashion a week earlier and blasted Waldron 57-0 to start the winning spree.
Plumlee, whose team’s lone loss this season was a 55-29 defeat at Hernando Miss., knows the slate gets no easier.
“We have to travel to Nashville and it is still one of the toughest places to play in Arkansas and I don’t care what anybody says, it is a tough place to go win,” Plumlee said. “And we know how great a team and program Arkadelphia has had.”
Malvern was just 6-6 a season ago in no small part because of losing star quarterback Cedric Simmons (6-0, 185) early in the season.
Simmons, who has over 4,800 career yards passing since starting as a freshman, is back and has over 1,000 yards passing and 500 rushing this season.
He is complimented by tailback Jalen Dupree (6-1, 195), who is averaging over 200 yards a game rushing this season after piling up 1,607 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2021.
“Him (Simmons) being out last year, we are kind of seeing how important he was to our team and our offense,” Plumleee said. “With all that being said, I have told a lot of people here lately that when Ced went down the Jalen got more of the spotlight and showed what we could do.
“We go into an elite four (offense) last year against Bauxite, we snapped it to him almost 40 times and he had almost 400 yards rushing. That’s what kind of got him on everybody’s radar and he just never looked back.”
That led to foes loading up on defense with no threat of a passing attack.
“We were doing that with no quarterback and last year when we got to Ashdown (in week six), we were seeing 9 in the box and the rest of the season we are seeing 9 or 10 in the box,” Plumlee said. “We just didn’t have anybody who could throw the ball to save our life so we had to get real creative.
“We leaned on our offensive line and we were sophomore heavy and basically has one senior that played for guys last year. This year we have zero seniors and one sophomore up front.”
Simmons return doesn’t allow for opposing defenses the opportunity to do that this season.
“With Ced being back, you have got to be balanced because if you put eight in the box we are going to throw it and if you leave six in there, we are going to play action you. Obviously we are not seeing a lot of five-man boxes,” Plumlee said.
Dupree, a receiver as a sophomore and early as a junior, has over 3,000 career yards rushing,
He had 22 carries for 217 yards rushing and six touchdowns in the win over Mena and a whopping 28 scores this season.
“Jalen Dupree is still our bell cow and everybody knows it,” Plumlee said. “But Ced takes a lot of pressure off him.
“Up until last week, Jalen was getting about 17 to 20 carries a week, Ced was going to get it about 10 times and we are going throw it about 15 times and there is your production for the night.
“Against Ashdown, we did some stuff that we haven’t shown and went back to direct snapping it to Jalen because we can hit the hole so much faster and he ended up having 38 carries to kind of ground the game out.
“I think if the game was a little bit closer last Friday night, then he probably doesn’t get those last 8 to 10 carries because we would have been back playing our base offense. With seven minutes to go, I was just looking to ground it out and keep the clock rolling and so that us what kind of tacked on those last 8 to 10 carries.”
Winters is the leader of a junior dominated offensive line.
“It all starts with our offensive line and big Vinnie Winters at tackle,” Plumlee said. “It is no secret that of you watch us play or break us down, we are going to run behind hi,. I think we are 100 perfect running behind him on fourth down and got all of them.
“Our guys are comfortable with him on that side, Jalen feels great about running behind him.
“Jalen Dupree doesn’t need much, he just needs a little seam because he is so explosive and he is not going to be arm tackled. You are going to have to put your shoulder on him.”