Saturday, September 11, 2010

SPORTS>>Panthers hold on, beat Bruins

Leader sports editor

It wasn’t until Zach Craig took a knee that fans could leave their seats.

The Cabot Panthers took a nail-biting, 35-34 victory at Pulaski Academy on Friday, surviving a late Bruins rally that hinged on a fumble and for all purposes ended with one.

“Any victory is a good victory, I want to tell you that,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We worked so hard and they don’t come easy when you play good people like this.”

The game was a matchup of Cabot’s ground-control, Dead T offense against Pulaski Academy’s high-flying Spread with its empty backfield and multiple receivers.

Cabot appeared to have the upper hand with a 35-26 lead after leading rusher Spencer Smith, who scored every Cabot touchdown, ran in from six yards out for his last score with 11:09 left in the game.

Pulaski Academy turned it over on downs after it fumbled and recovered on fourth and 10 and Cabot appeared set to work the clock with 9:02 to go.

But the Panthers couldn’t convert on fourth and four and the Bruins drove for Lawson Vassar’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Zac Reyna and his conversion throw to Garrett Lamb to pull within 35-34 with 4:06 remaining.

Chase Boyles recovered the onside kick for Cabot with 4:06 left and the Panthers now needed a few first downs to run out the clock, but Craig fumbled on the first play, Aum’Arie Wallace recovered for the Bruins, and they appeared ready to steal the victory.

But Pulaski Academy, which used three quarterbacks, called for Jack Snider to pass to quarterback Fredi Knighton, who threw back across the field to Snider.

Snider couldn’t handle the lateral and Cabot linebacker Riley Hawkins recovered the fumble with 3:45 to go, allowing the Panthers to drive inside the 5 and let Craig take a knee twice to finally end it.

“Both systems worked,” Malham said of the two wildly different offenses.

“We thought we could come out and move the ball and stop them early because they were a little nervous and young,” Bruins coach Kevin Kelly said. “Obviously the further we got in the game the more difficult we knew it was going to be for our defense because they’re a solid offense.”

Smith rushed for 186 yards and his six touchdowns and his longest gain was 14 yards.

Pulaski Academy, which made national news by refusing to punt last year, continued its unconventional ways with the three-quarterback rotation, as well as going for on fourth down and attempting onside kicks after each score.

Hawkins recovered one such kick and it led to the possession that ended with Smith’s two-yard run and Logan Spry’s extra-point kick that made it 28-26 Cabot with 4:42 left in the third quarter.

Kelly said the onside kicks came out of respect for Cabot’s ability to sustain drives its Dead T.

“Our thinking was if they’re going to move the ball and drive it down we’re going to give them the short field so they’re not going to take all the clock,” Kelly said.

Then Cabot surprised Pulaski Academy with an onside kick of its own, and Boyles recovered the ball to set up the Panthers’ 50-yard scoring drive that made it 35-26.

“We said ‘Let’s see if we can get us a break,’ and it worked out,” Malham said. “And then of course we tried to give it back with another turnover there at the end.”