Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SPORTS >>Cabot defense does job

Leader sportswriter

In a game where every point counted, a safety for Cabot in the first quarter, coupled with a blocked extra-point attempt by Joe Bryant made the difference between victory and defeat Friday night at Panther Stadium, as the Panthers held off Little Rock Central 9-6 in a contest that made up in physicality what it lacked on the scoreboard.

Repeated chances for Little Rock Central in the fourth quarter made putting the final nail in the coffin very difficult for the Panthers, but junior defensive back Hunter Hess knocked down the final pass from Tigers’ quarterback Randy Rankin to keep the victory for Cabot in tact.

Central charged down field twice in the final period after pulling to within three points with their only score of the night mid-way through the third quarter.

The Tigers’ biggest threat came with less than five minutes left in the game, when a series of big gains on pitch outs to senior running back Bo Dillon took Central all the way down to the Cabot 21 yard line, but Dillon would commit the biggest error of the game shortly thereafter. Dillon fumbled on a successful first down run that would have set the Tigers up with a first and goal at the Panthers’ 8-yard line, but the ball was stripped from him as he went down to the turf, and Powell Bryant was there for the recovery for Cabot.

The Panthers ran out as much clock as possible, but still had to hand possession to Central with 41 seconds remaining. The Tigers took three more shots downfield before time ran out on them, but Hess, along with fellow sophomore D back Joe Bryant, finished out their night of game-saving plays with two big pass-breakups in the final seven seconds of the game.

Senior Kaelon Kellybrew served as Rankin’s favorite target all night, but Bryant had his number from the middle stages of the second quarter on.

Kellybrew would come up with the biggest play on the night for Central with a 47-yard reception that set up the Tigers’ lone score, but the delivery would not be from Rankin, but rather tailback Dillon off a pitch that was delivered perfectly down the right side to put LRC deep into Cabot territory at the 22-yard line. It would be the only big pass play that Bryant let by on the night. Panthers head coach Mike Malham acknowledged the solid job in the secondary after the game.

“They came up big,” Malham said. “We got that interception, of course; we got beat over the line one time. Actually, we got beat a couple of times, but they overthrew it. When you’re playing as many sophomores as we’re playing, that’s going to happen to you. We got by, and we’ll take it.”

The Panthers’ first score of the night came when the opening drive for Central stalled after only three plays, leaving punter Adam Meeks with the task of punting out of his own end zone on fourth and seven. The snap was not only high, but also drifted to the left as it bounced up in the middle of the end zone. Meeks actually saved the Tigers five points by squibbing the ball out of the end zone before Bryant could get there to recover for a touchdown, resulting in a safety.

Central then kicked back to the Panthers, who would take advantage of good field position on their second possession. They would start at their own 45-yard line, and would pace themselves with 13 plays before sophomore fullback Michael James took it in from three yards out with 20 seconds left in the opening quarter. Junior place kicker Joshua Luna added the extra point, giving the Panthers what would turn out to be their final point of the game.

The Tigers did produce one drive that appeared to be taking them on their way to a score at the start of the second quarter. Senior Aaron Nichols set Central up with great field position with a good kick return out to the LRC 39-yard line. Dillon’s number would be called six straight times to start the drive, with 27 yards picked up by the senior to take the ball down to the Cabot 28-yard line.

Central continued to run the ball, with more gives to Dillon, along with fullback Will Rollins. Rollins’ two-yard run to the Cabot 18 would give Central third and three, and the Tigers decided to go for the whole thing on the following play with a pass down the left side into the back of the end zone to Justin Henderson. Henderson got his hands around the ball, but so did Cabot junior defensive back Zach Coy, who fought Henderson on the way down until the ball was in his hands when the two hit the ground. Instead of Central touchdown, the play became a Cabot touchback on the interception, leaving the Tigers scoreless.

Cabot would finally lose its two-score cushion at the 8:30 mark of the third quarter, when Dillon busted over the goal line from a yard out for a touchdown. Walter Hawkins lined up for the extra-point attempt, only to be completely blocked by Joe Bryant after Bryant got by the LRC line untouched for the huge special teams play.

The Panthers’ offensive fortunes would change late in the second quarter, when senior LRC lineman Jared Green dragged down starting QB Seth Bloomberg in the backfield. Green, listed at 6’1”, 195 lbs., rolled over Bloomberg on the stop, which put the sophomore on the sideline for the remainder of the night. Powell Bryant was brought in to stand under center for the rest of the night, leaving the Panther line vulnerable to unfamiliar snap cadences.

It would be a non-issue in the end for the Panthers, who limped as much clock off as possible in the final 24 minutes. James had some of his lowest rushing numbers of the season against the Tigers, but he, along with senior tailback Jordan Carlisle, were able to move the sticks for 13 first downs in the game. That may not seem like a tremendously impressive number, but compared to 10 first downs for the Tigers in the entire game, it would be the difference in clock control for the Panthers to hold on.

James led the Panthers with 28 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown. Carlisle added 60 yards on 11 rushes. Cabot had a total of 226 offensive yards. For Central, Dillon had 23 carries for 83 yards and one touchdown. Rankin, in perhaps the most telling stat of the night, was only 4 for 16 passing for 35 yards and one interception. The Tigers had 156 yards of total offense.

Cabot is now 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the 7A-Centrral Conference. Little Rock Central fell to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in league play with the loss.

The Panthers will travel to Bryant next week to take on the league-leading Hornets, while the Tigers will host North Little Rock.