Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SPORTS>>Panthers, Rebels headed for runoff

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers are hoping they haven’t played their last home game.

Cabot beat Rogers Heritage 31-13 in the first round of the 7A state playoffs at Panther Stadium on Friday. The victory sets up this week’s quarterfinal game at Fort Smith Southside.

“They’re the No. 2 seed up there of course,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “If we’re lucky enough to win it we might could get the semis back here if Fayetteville beats West Memphis.”

Having a home playoff with a berth in the state final at stake would be a plus for Cabot, but there is the little matter of Southside now that the postseason field has been whittled to eight.

“After the first round of the playoffs, if there are any weak sisters in it they’re going to be gone,” Malham said.

Last week the Panthers (9-2) overcame early fumbles to score 24 points in the second quarter against Heritage, and then they shut out the War Eagles in a scoreless second half. On defense, Greg Phelps and Mason James each got an interception and Ethan Covington recovered a fumble.

“They played some pretty good people up there,” Malham said of Heritage (4-7), which plays in the 7A West Conference and was the No. 6 seed. “I was just tickled we played pretty good on both sides of the ball.”

Cabot, the No. 3 seed, rushed for 417 yards behind six players who gained 40 or more.

While the Panthers like to stick to the ground in their Dead T offense and are satisfied if they gain 3.5 yards a play, they turned in a pair of explosive runs against Heritage. Rod Quinn scored on a 70-yard tight-end reverse and James Haley gained 59 yards to set up a score when the Panthers tricked the War Eagles on a fumblerooski.

The trick play may have worked so well because Cabot committed fumbles to end two of its first three possessions.

“We fumbled the possessions away, that kind of got me worried there and we finally got it in synch,” Malham said. “I think the next four or five times we had it, we put points on the board.”

While Cabot didn’t score in the second half it also kept Heritage out of the end zone and turned in a long drive that made the clock turn against the War Eagles.

“Really, the third time we got it we were running the clock out,” Malham said.

The victory was all the more gratifying because the Panthers were without several key players who were injured. The group includes starting quarterback Zach Craig who is out for the season with a knee injury and has been replaced by Bryson Morris.

At the first of the week Malham wasn’t sure how many of the injured players would be ready to go Friday.

“If they are, that’s a bonus. If not we’ll continue to continue on,” Malham said.

Malham said the fumbles, one of which came on the center-quarterback exchange, were a concern. But it was possible to chalk the problem up to Morris, who began the season on defense after contending for the quarterback job in preseason, and his teammates getting their timing down.

“It’s something you do every day all week long in practice,” Malham said. “You don’t have any problems. You’ve got to be the same way in a game.”

Overall, Malham said, Morris played well.

“We missed a handoff. I don’t know if that was nerves or not,” Malham said. “I thought Bryson did a good job overall. We ran the option well.”

In 2000, Cabot beat Southside, 28-21, in the AAAAA state championship at War Memorial Stadium. This year’s Rebels like to run the ball, perhaps not quite as much as the Panthers but more than many of the Spread offense teams in the 7A-West, Malham said.

“We’re not real big on defense and they’ve got some big, tough running backs,” Malham said. “It’s going to be probably who can win the trenches. Of course they think they can move it pretty good on the ground and we feel the same way.

“If it works out that way, it won’t be a very long game, that’s for sure.”

If Fayetteville cooperates by beating West Memphis, and Cabot can leave the mistakes at home, Malham likes the Panthers’ chances of returning home for a semifinal.

“We’ve just got to take a three- hour trip, we’ve got to focus in and play hard,” Malham said.

“The same old scenario. Hopefully we don’t help them. If we can stay away from the fumbles and the penalties that kill drives and the defense doesn’t give up any big plays, we’ll have a chance to win it.”