Saturday, November 13, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot steamrolls Heritage

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

When Cabot hung onto the ball, things went pretty well Friday night.

The Panthers overcame a case of early butterfingers to score all of their points in the first half in a 31-13, first-round 7A playoff victory over Rogers Heritage at Panther Stadium.

Cabot outscored Heritage, plagued by a few turnovers of its own, 24-6 in the second quarter and shut out the War Eagles in the second half.

“That was a good win,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I don’t care what their record was that was a good win.”

The Panthers fumbled away their first possession but went on to grind out 417 rushing yards as six ball carriers gained 40 or more.

Andre Ausejo led with 104 yards. Mason James gained 46 and scored two touchdowns, James Haley rushed for one score and gained 90 yards and tight end Rod Quinn carried only twice but scored on a 70-yard reverse.

Will Hidalgo added a 38-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half, which ended up capping the scoring.

“That was big right before the half getting that three-score lead,” Malham said.

The victory was all the more heartening for the Panthers because they were without several key players because of injuries. Starting quarterback Zach Craig and running backs Spencer Smith and Jeremy Berry were among those missing.

“We had about three of them to play double duty because of the injuries but it’s do or die now,” Malham said. “There ain’t no tomorrow.”

The Panthers’ focus on pass defense in the summer 7-on-7 leagues and against non-conference opponents like high-flying Pulaski Academy paid dividends.

Greg Phelps and James each intercepted Heritage quarterback Reed Brown, with James’ play at the Cabot 5 with less than six minutes left all but wrapping up the victory.

“We’ve been snake bit with that all year,” Heritage coach Perry Escalante said of the turnovers.

Phelps also recovered a fumble and Ethan Covington recovered an onside kick.

“The defense played really good,” Malham said. “That’s a pretty good offensive team right there that they held to 13 points.”

The Panthers’ defensive front and linebackers made Brown pay for just about every one of his 256 yards, hitting him on release several times, forcing him to scramble and throw on the run and sacking him once.

“He’s a tough kid, you know, what can you say?” Escalante said. “Three-year starter. Put up some big numbers for us.”

Cabot travels to Fort Smith Southside for a second round game next week.

“They’re the No. 2 seed up there. They beat Har-Ber and that’s something we didn’t do earlier in the year,” Malham said.

A fumbled center-quarterback exchange ended Cabot’s first possession of the game and Heritage recovered at the Panthers 40 and cashed in with a quick scoring drive.

Brown hit Luke Oldham for a 37-yard completion to the 3, and a play later found Oldham in the back of the end zone as the War Eagles went ahead 7-0 with 6:06 left in the first quarter.

“It didn’t start off real good, did it?” Malham said.

Cabot counter-punched with a five-play scoring drive that featured a 44-yard keeper by Bryson Morris and a six-yard touchdown run by Haley that tied it with 2:10 left in the quarter.

Cabot took the lead on its next possession when James outran the defense 12 yards to the left pylon with 8:54 left. The score was set up when Haley ran 59 yards on a hidden ball play that had the War Eagles chasing several Panthers decoys out of the backfield while Haley got loose down the right sideline.

“I don’t know how he got that ball,” Malham said, keeping coy about the specifics of the play. “That was that old hidden — that’s just one of those sneaky plays. One of those trick plays.”
Heritage pulled within 14-13 on a five-yard scoring pass from Brown to Oldham, but Hayden Severs missed the extra-point kick with 7:45 left in the half.

After that it was all Cabot.

Quinn got a carry and went 70 yards down the right sideline to make it 21-13 with 3:57 left. Phelps intercepted a pass at the Heritage 43 and returned it to the 21, and a play later James scored from 14 yards out for the 28-13 lead with 1:11 left.

Heritage fumbled on a hook and lateral attempt after a reception and Phelps recovered at the 41. After a 16-yard completion by Morris, Hidalgo kicked his field goal with 20 seconds left for the 31-13 halftime lead.