By Todd traub
Leader sports editor
Cabot coach Mike Malham will be the first to say the Panthers always have room for improvement, but Cabot is at least coming off its best performance by far as it prepares to travel to Little Rock Central on Friday.
Cabot beat North Little Rock, the preseason 7A/6A-Central Conference favorite, 14-7 in overtime at Panther Stadium last week.
Cabot did not commit a single penalty and only had one turnover on an end-zone interception of an under thrown ball by quarterback Zach Craig.
“We’ve been averaging about three or four turnovers a game,” Malham said. “If we’d have done that Friday night, we had no penalties and one turnover, if we’d done the same thing we’d been doing the last three or four weeks we wouldn’t have won.”
The interception, by North Little Rock’s Gary Vines, eventually led to the ChargingWildcats’ first touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
But the Panthers responded with a one-yard touchdown run by Spencer Smith with 1:36 left in the game, and Edgar Atilano missed a 37-yard field goal with 16 seconds left to bring up overtime.
Smith scored on a two-yard run in the extra period and after a holding penalty wiped out a North Little Rock touchdown, Charging Wildcats quarterback Kaylon Cooper ran out of bounds near the 5 on fourth and 16 to end the game.
“Hopefully it gives the kids a little confidence and they start feeling good about themselves,” Malham said. “If you don’t believe it, you’re not going to achieve it, that’s for sure.”
Almost lost in all the excitement of Friday’s overtime victory was the performance of sophomore kicker Jesus Marquez. Logan Spry entered the season as the acknowledged starter, and punter, with Marquez being groomed to take over next season.
But a stomach injury has relegated Spry to defensive back only and Marquez has come through. His two extra points Friday — one to tie, one that would have kept a touchdown from tying in overtime — helped make the difference.
“He hasn’t had any mishaps in a game yet as far as extra points or scoring opportunities so that’s a pleasant surprise there,” Malham said of Marquez. “Logan’s a senior. Marques is a sophomore so obviously we were just trying to get him ready for next year, but he got the call a little earlier that we anticipated.”
The victory kept Cabot (4-2, 2-1) in the hunt for a conference title entering this week’s game at Central, though right now that would require a loss by Conway.
First-place Conway (6-0, 3-0) trounced Cabot earlier this season and plays Bryant (5-1, 3-0) this week. Cabot still has a home game left against Bryant, the only team to defeat the Panthers in the regular season last year.
“The only team that can beat us Friday is Central,” Malham said.
Under veteran coach Scooter Register, who left Little Rock Catholic to take over the storied Central program, the Tigers ended a 25-game losing streak with a 28-27 victory over Russellville last week.
Central is one of the most notable and historic programs in the state and the subject of a new book “Carrying the Rock,” by Jay Jennings. The Tigers, under now retired coach Bernie Cox, were winless the past two seasons after winning six games in 2007, a conference championship in 2006 and the second of two consecutive state titles in 2004.
Malham is concerned the Tigers are again showing signs of life.
“We can’t take anybody for granted,” Malham said. “They’ve got athletes, they can run. Just like North Little Rock, they were bigger; they were faster. We’ve got to do things right. We’ve got to play disciplined football and do things right. We can’t give up the big play.”