Saturday, November 06, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot’s gain includes pain

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers won their regular season finale Thursday night, but they also took some significant losses.

Cabot rolled to a big first-half lead and beat Russellville 27-6 at Panther Stadium. But four key players went down with injuries, including starting quarterback Zach Craig who was injured on a first-half carry.

A subdued coach Mike Malham addressed the injuries voluntarily after the game, before even acknowledging the Panthers had taken a share of the 7A/6A-Central Conference championship.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Malham said. “We know we’re going to be playing here next Friday, probably against Heritage. We’ve just got to lick our wounds and get what we got and get them out there and get ready to go.”

Malham said it was possible Craig, who left the field with help and favoring his right knee, might be lost for the season.

“He’s been looking really good the last couple weeks, throwing and running the option,” Malham said of Craig.

The Panthers also lost running back Spencer Smith, who aggravated a shoulder injury, tight end Jesse Roberts and running back Jeremy Berry, who posted his best game with more than 200 rushing yards the previous week at Van Buren.

All were expected to see doctors on Friday.

“All of a sudden, man, you’re looking good, 21-0 first quarter and you’re cruising, ”Malham said.  “And then you’re just wanting to get one more in and let some other kids play and all of a sudden things start falling apart.”

Cabot rolled to a 21-0 first-half lead, scoring on its first three possessions. The Panthers (8-2, 6-1) tacked on another touchdown when Ian Thompson plunged in from three yards out with 7:14 left in the third quarter.

Russellville scored on a late fumble return that caught the Panthers flat-footed with 1:31 left in the game.

After addressing the injuries, Malham praised his team, which won its sixth straight game, for earning a share of the conference championship with Conway and Bryant and reaching the postseason.

Conway beat Little Rock Catholic on Thursday and Bryant’s game at Little Rock Central was rescheduled to Friday night because of a blown transformer.

“They’ve done a great job,” Malham said of his players’ earning a share of the championship. “Everything now is bonus anyway. There’s 12 teams and one is going to be happy when it’s all said and done. It could be us if we can put it together.”

The Panthers, with a brisk wind at their backs, held Russellville to negative one yard in the first quarter while scoring on all three of their possessions.

Each of Will Hidalgo’s first three, wind-blown kickoffs sailed into the end zone for a touchback, and the Cabot defense kept Russellville from getting much farther than the 20, forcing the Cyclones to punt and giving the offense starting field position from the Russellville 24, 47 and 22.

James Haley scored the Panthers’ first touchdown on an 18-yard run, capping a two-play drive with 10:52 left in the quarter.

The next score came on Craig’s three-yard keeper with 5:43 to go in the period and Haley capped another two-play possession when he slipped outside the right tackle and ran 20 yards for the 21-0 lead with 3:47 left in the first.

The quarter expired with Cabot at the Russellville 47, and the Panthers’ fortunes almost immediately took a bad turn.

The Panthers were forced to punt for the first time and the low snap got away from Max Carroll and he was dropped for a 15-yard loss as the Cyclones took over.

The defense held again after Russellville drove to the Cabot 12 as Greg Phelps and Mason James broke up Jordan Barrett’s fourth-down pass into the end zone.

Cabot marched to the Russellville 8, with Craig gaining eight yards on a keeper, but he was injured on the play and stayed down outside the right sideline until he was helped off favoring his right knee.

Brandon Boatright replaced Craig and had trouble hanging on to his first two snaps, and Bryson Morris replaced him during the next possession after Cabot reached the Russellville 46.

That drive stalled too, but Carroll got off a deep punt into the wind, forcing the Cyclones to start from their 15, and the half ended on an incompletion with the Panthers leading 21-0.

“I’m just going to enjoy this, at least I get an extra day since it’s Thursday to enjoy this,” Malham said. “And then hopefully we can get ready to compete next week when Heritage comes in here.”