By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
Cabot coach Mike Malham said he wanted the Panthers to be in the mix if Conway got knocked off.
Conway did, and the Panthers are.
Cabot (5-2, 3-1) enters Friday’s home game against Bryant (6-1, 4-0) with a chance to force a three-way tie atop the 7A/6A-Central Conference. Conway beat Cabot in Week 4 but Bryant beat Conway (6-1, 3-1) last week to set up the Week 8 scenario.
“It certainly puts us back in the ballgame for a chance to control your own destiny,” Malham said.
Conway took advantage of some early Cabot mistakes on its way to a 41-7 victory on Sept. 24, but Cabot appears to have smoothed out its game since then. The team that was once averaging between 3-4 turnovers a game has only lost the ball once and committed just two total penalties in its past two outings.
After posting their best defensive effort and beating preseason conference favorite North Little Rock 14-7 in overtime, the Panthers went to Little Rock Central last week and turned in their best offensive game in the 54-20 victory.
Cabot scored on eight of 11 possessions and four of five possessions in the first half. With their Dead T running game clicking, the Panthers also held the ballfor 32 minutes, 44 seconds, compared to Central’s 15:16.
“We moved it pretty much at will. I think we punted one time,” Malham said. “The B team even scored a couple there, got two in. But the offensive line probably had their best night of the year.
“Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come. But everything went pretty well.”
Bryant beat Conway 34-30 in double overtime Friday and will travel to Panther Stadium to face a Cabot team it stunned 35-7 in the mud at Bryant last year.
Malham doesn’t think the Panthers will be too motivated by last year’s loss, not with so much to interest them in this year’s game.
“I don’t know if that has much to do with it,” Malham said. “We played that game about like we played the Conway game this year. I hope they’re thinking ‘hey, a win is going to put us right back on top of the conference.’ ”
Last year the mud, which forced Bryant to use a helicopter to help dry the field, may have played a role in the outcome. But the fall drought and Cabot’s artificial surface rule out any mud bowls this year; in fact, all the schools in the conference, including Bryant, now have artificial grass.
“The only chance we’d have of playing on grass is if we went to Forth Smith in the playoffs,” said Malham, taking stock of the facilities in all of 7A.
The playoffs would be fine with the Panthers, but first they have to get by Bryant.
“They’re a running team,” Malham said. “They’ll run some I and some two-tight and they also go out of a Spread, but they like to run the ball and they’ll set that up with the pass.
“They’re probably 70 percent run.”
Cabot, with its Dead T, is closer to 90 or 95 percent run. Malham expects Bryant to know that and to defend accordingly.
“Hopefully, we can get outside and hopefully we can throw a little more if we can get things set up,” Malham said. “You don’t want to outdo yourself. You want do what your kids are capable of doing.
“If our base offense isn’t moving it very well it’s going to be a rough night, that’s for sure.”
At least the Panthers are at home, where their only loss this year was 28-10 to Springdale Har-Ber, Cabot’s old playoff nemesis, in Week 3.
“Just playing at home, obviously, with our crowd, hopefully that will get the kids fired up and hopefully we’ll play hard,” Malham said. “Last two home games have been pretty wild. The Catholic game the lead changed hands four times in the second half and the North Little Rock game went into overtime.
“I though we played Har-Ber a pretty good ballgame so hopefully we’ll play well at home.”