Monday, September 20, 2010

SPORTS >> Har-Ber a handful for Cabot

IN SHORT: Nationally ranked Wildcats survive scrappy effort by Panthers thanks to big first half.

By Todd Traub
Leader sports editor

Cabot was never out of it.

Unfortunately, the Panthers could never quite get into it, either.

Long-time playoff nemesis Springdale Har-Ber scored on its first three possessions and went on to a 28-10 victory over Cabot at Panther Stadium on Friday.

It was the Panthers’ first game against a 7A opponent this season and the fourth time in four years Har-Ber has beaten Cabot, with three victories coming in the 7A playoffs.

“I hope we play them one more time this year,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said, looking toward this year’s postseason after the Panthers (2-1) suffered their first loss.

Malham was encouraged by the way the Panthers stayed with the Wildcats (3-0), answering Har-Ber’s first two touchdowns with scores of their own. Har-Ber was ranked in the top 25 of more than one national high school poll and had scored more than 100 points in its first two games.

“We seem to be getting a little better each game,” Malham said. “Our worst half offensively was this second half tonight. But I think our defense is getting a little better and a little better. They’re very good on offense, they’ve got everything back from last year and won it last year.”

Cabot did all of its scoring in the first half while Har-Ber added a third-quarter touchdown in the second half, which bogged down on penalties and miscues by both teams. Har-Ber made it 28-10 when Ryan Luther passed 17 yards to Jeremy Vongvone as time expired in the third quarter.

“We hung in there good and had our chances,” Malham said. “And really the defense gave us some chances in the second half and all of a sudden our offense didn’t move it.”

The half began when Cabot’s Spencer Smith and Jesse Roberts collided to fumble the kickoff. Har-Ber took the gift and promptly went backwards on a series of penalties and a sack by Cabot’s Jason Sled, then the Wildcats extended a Panthers drive with an offsides penalty.

But Cabot wound up punting, and its remaining possessions ended on a failed fourth-down conversion, a fumble after reaching the Har-Ber 37, another fourth-down stop and an interception.

Bryson Morris picked off a Har-Ber pass in the end zone for Cabot.

“I thought it was two different halves,” Har-Ber coach Chris Wood said. “I thought offensively we played good in the first half. Defense was so-so. Second half I thought the offense made a lot of mistakes, just kind of hit cruise control there and Cabot had everything to do with that; they came after us and they caused some turnovers.
“But our defense played better in the second half.”

Spencer Smith led Cabot with 78 rushing yards and a touchdown. Luther passed for 133 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another to lead Har-Ber.

Har-Ber took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards to score on Luther’s 21-yard pass to Evan Johnson, who got behind Morris in the end zone on the fourth-and-5 attempt.

The Wildcats overcame false start and holding penalties on the drive, and the big gain was a 26-yard completion from Luther to Vongvone.

Cabot responded with a 65-yard scoring drive, but it stalled when Austin Alley took a two-yard loss on fourth and nine and the Panthers settled for Jesus Marquez’s 27-yard field goal that made it 7-0 with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.

Marquez stepped in as kicker because a pulled stomach muscle limited senior Logan Spry to defensive back duty only.

Har-Ber came back with a seven-play scoring possession that featured Gordon Welch’s 10-yard run for a first down followed by Luther’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Brett Stith that made it 14-3 with 10:10 left in the half.

But Cabot answered again, this time with a 14-play, 70-yard touchdown drive.

The Panthers picked up a fourth-down conversion on Andre Ausejo’s four-yard run to the Wildcats 44 and Jeremy Berry raced to the outside on a 20-yard carry for a first down to the Har-Ber 14.

Smith carried for first and goal at the 3 and Craig carried up the middle from there for the touchdown that cut it to 14-10 with 4:40 left.

But the Panthers couldn’t silence the Wildcats. Har-Ber drove for another touchdown and got a boost from an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cabot that helped it survive a 7-yard loss on a low snap and gave the Wildcats second and two at the Panthers 23.

Tucker Lee carried twice and then Luther ran it in from the 12 to make it 21-10 with 1:25 left in the half.

“It was sloppy but coming in to Cabot and get a win, 28-10, I think is huge,” Wood said.

“Cabot’s going to be in the thick of it come Thanksgiving. They’re a really well coached team. I’ve got so much respect for this town and this community. It’s how football should be.”