Tuesday, October 09, 2007

SPORTS >>Cabot takes early lead, holds

Leader sportswriter

A high snap on an extra point attempt by North Little Rock with 5:02 left in the third quarter would be the end of the road for the Wildcats’ playoff hopes, as Cabot just held on for a 21-20 win Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.

The Panthers had a dominant first half on the heels of sophomore fullback Michael James, who scored all three Cabot touchdowns in the first two quarters on his way to 157 yards rushing at intermission. The Panthers led 21-7 at the half, but the going in the second half would not be nearly as smooth.

The comeback would be on for the Wildcats in the second half, who made adjustments on both sides of the ball. The NLR defense had number 14 in their sights in the third quarter, determined to control the line of scrimmage after giving up 192 yards to the Panthers in the first two quarters.

The offense also came out with more intensity, with two scores in the third quarter that threatened to make the North Little Rock homecoming game an amazing come-from-behind tale. The Charging Wildcats also needed a win to simply stay alive for a shot at the playoffs, but it was not to be, as a late drive into the Cabot red zone was thwarted with a big stop by Spencer Neumann on third and two at the 9-yard line. The Wildcats chose to go for it on fourth and three with 6:36 left in the game instead of trying a short field goal.

That move would prove costly, as Ramon Stewart fumbled the pitch from NLR quarterback David Hope for a 17-yard loss. The Panthers took over on downs, and proceeded to run the clock down to 1:40 before a pass to junior tight end Les McGregor in the end zone on fourth and four at the Wildcats’ 10-yard line.

North Little Rock would have one more shot, but had to go 90 yards in a minute and 40 seconds with only one time out remaining, which would prove to be too tall an order.

The Wildcats drove to the Cabot 47, but with only two seconds left, they would only have one more try. Hope found favorite target Deshaun Thomas 30 yards downfield, but Cabot sophomore Joe Bryant made contact with Thomas just as the ball got to him, causing it to fall to the ground to a collective sigh of relief from the Cabot faithful.

“We hung on when we had to,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said. “Their intensity looked a lot better in the second half; ours didn’t look so good. We made some offensive miscues in the second half; people going the wrong way on routes, miscues in the huddle and everything else. They got a little life and momentum on their side and came out and played a great half. If they hadn’t missed the field goal, then it’s overtime.”

Malham, like many people in regards to the NLR drive mid-way in the fourth quarter, was surprised that there was no field goal attempt.

“I kind of thought they would try one,” Malham said. “That would have given them the lead, but evidently they didn’t have confidence in their field-goal kicker, so I’m glad it worked the way it did. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors and not many seniors, so we’re still a pretty young team too. Hopefully we can get better and learn how to finish these things.”

North Little Rock struggled offensively in the first half, but all the Panthers needed were 19 carries from James in the first 24 minutes to acquire just enough points to last the remainder of the contest.

His first run would come on Cabot’s second play from scrimmage at the Panther 44-yard line. James took the handoff from QB Seth Bloomberg on the right side and broke through the line, leaving the NLR defenders behind on a 56-yard touchdown run with 9:25 left in the first quarter. Josh Luna added the extra point to put the Panthers up 7-0 early.

Cabot’s next drive stalled out at its own 45-yard line. The Panthers lined up to punt, but snapped to James, who was in the up back position. James took the ball and cut right once again, this time collecting 35 yards to set up a first and 10 at the North Little Rock 20-yard line.

Bloomberg converted the next first down with an option keep on fourth and two at the 11-yard line. His cut to the middle from the right was good for three yards, and would set up James for the score three plays later from two yards out. Another Luna PAT gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 45 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Cabot’s only major mistake of the first half would come on its next offensive drive, after the Wildcats punted for the third time in the game to give the Panthers possession at their own 5-yard line.

Junior halfback Wesley Sowell took the first down give from Bloomberg and found room on the right side, only to be yanked down from behind by his jersey. The awkward takedown caused Sowell to drop the ball, and The Wildcats were there to recover for their first break in the game with a first down at the Cabot 12.

They would take advantage of the good field position, with a brief four-play drive that ended on a one-yard keep by backup quarterback Corbin McCuien on third and goal. Jaison Sterling added the point after attempt for North Little Rock to cut the Cabot lead to one score at 14-7.

The Panthers then went on what is best described as a classic Cabot drive, going 67 yards in 18 plays for what would turn out to be their final score of the night. Most importantly, the drive ate up 7:35 off the clock before James completed his hat trick, bulldozing his way in to the end zone from two yards out with 1:19 left in the half.

The Wildcats tried to score before the end of the first half, and came very close. NLR went into hurry-up mode, taking the ball all the way from its own 38 to the Cabot 4-yard line when time expired. With only seven seconds left until the half, Hope connected with McCuien for a 22-yard pass play, but the Wildcats had already spent all of their timeouts. The NLR scoreboard mysteriously stopped with one second left before the officials signaled a first down, much to the dismay of Malham. The Wildcats quickly lined up and tried to get another play off before the referees blew the clock live once again, but a pass to Thomas in the end zone was disallowed, which then sent the North Little Rock crowd into an uproar to end the half on an awkward note.

Marcus Fields pulled the Wildcats to within one score at the 8:07 mark of the third quarter on a three-yard touchdown run. Sterling’s extra point made it a seven-point game.

The next Cabot drive stalled after three plays, when Bloomberg was stuffed for a loss on third down and seven. The momentum that seemed to carry Cabot in the first half was absent in all facets, as punter Sowell barely beat the play clock on to the field for the kick.

Stewart would then come away with the Wildcats’ biggest offensive play of the game moments later on a 49-yard touchdown run after breaking through the line of scrimmage to find tons of daylight to the right. Stewart beat the Cabot secondary to the goal line, and then got a freebee when the officials did not see him spike the football in the end zone.

North Little Rock only needed one more extra point from Sterling to make it an even game once again, but the snap to McCuien was high, and the Panthers rushed in to dismantle the play before North Little Rock could recover. That would make the score 21-20 with 5:02 left in the third quarter.

James led the Panthers with 34 carries for 229 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers finished with 280 total offensive yards. Cabot is now 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the 7A-Central Conference, and will host Little Rock Central next week for homecoming at CHS.