Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot pulls away from Devils

Leader sports editor

A tough battle for a half turned one side in the third quarter as the Cabot Panthers scored 21 points in the third to beat Jacksonville 28-0 Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium.

The Panthers led 7-0 at halftime and were stopped without a first down on the opening possession of the third quarter, but that’s when the big break came.

Jacksonville’s do-it-all man Aaron Smith fumbled the punt and Cabot’s Blake Gibson covered it at the Jacksonville 24-yard line.

The Panthers rode the momentum. Fullback Zach Launius picked up 18 yards on first down to set up first and goal at the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Launius scored from 2 yards out. Jesus Marquez added the extra point for a 14-0 Cabot lead with 7:38 left in the third quarter.

“That swung the game,” an emotional Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said afterwards. “We made too many little mistakes that cost us early, then we had the big one there with the fumbled punt. Too many procedure penalties – we have to clean that up. We can be a great football team. We just have to believe we can be, especially on offense.”

Jacksonville picked up 20 yards on a reception by sophomore Lamont Gause to start its next drive, but things stalled from there. The Red Devils were called for illegal procedure on third down and four yards to go, then threw incomplete and were forced to punt.

Cabot’s Chris Henry returned the kick all the way to the Jacksonville 26-yard line with another five tacked on for a facemask penalty. It took the Panthers five plays to go 21 yards with Launius scoring again, this time from 5 yards out with 4:10 left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville’s senior speedster Kevin Richardson returned the kickoff 49 yards, but was injured at the end of the play and did not return. Smith, who played quarterback, safety and punt and kick returner, was also injured early in the third and did not finish the game.

Jacksonville lost 14 yards on the next drive. The Devils went for it on fourth and 24 from their own 40, but were called for two penalties on the play, including a personal foul. It all left Cabot with another short field, this time needing just 14 yards for another touchdown.

The Panthers got it in five plays with Kyle Edgar diving in from 1 yard out with 1:12 left in the third quarter.

“I thought we started out kind of out of sync on offense and just couldn’t get anything going,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “Our defense played well the whole game and that’ll win you ball games. If they can’t score it’s going to be hard for them to beat you.”

The running game wasn’t working early, so Cabot resorted to the pass. The result was a 25-yard touchdown play from quarterback Kason Kimbrell to tight end Brandon Boatright and a 7-0 Cabot lead with 7:33 left in the first half.

Cabot found the smaller Jacksonville defense a difficult foe in the early going. After having their way with Lake Hamilton’s defense in a preseason scrimmage, the Red Devils were in a stingy mood, stopping Cabot on their first three drives before giving up a nine-play, 73-yard drive capped by Boatright’s touchdown catch on third and 9.

Cabot’s defense was solid too. Jacksonville managed a few good plays, but had trouble putting things together with Cabot defenders frequently finding their way into the Red Devils’ backfield.

Jacksonville had its best drive after Cabot’s score, driving into Cabot territory before Gause fumbled at the Panther 37, where Cabot’s Rob Rankin recovered it with 5:22 left in the half.

Cabot was on its way to a two-touchdown lead as time expired in the half, but Jacksonville came up with a big goal-line stand. The Panthers moved it to Jacksonville 9-yard line on a 13-yard quarterback keeper by Kimbrell on third and 5. Two more plays gained just three yards and Cabot hurt itself with an illegal procedure penalty on third down. Max Carroll gained 7 yards on third and goal from the 11-yard line, setting up fourth and goal from the 4-yard line. Cabot called its last timeout with nine seconds left in the half to set up the final play.

It was a reverse handoff to tight end Keith Pledger, who had an almost-clear path to the goal line, save for Jacksonville’s Damitrious Ervin. The two met at the 1-yard line with Ervin hitting Pledger at the knees. Pledger flipped into the end zone, but the ball touched the ground before crossing the plane, giving the Red Devils possession with two seconds left in the half and keeping the margin at seven points.

Cabot finished with 278 yards of offense while Jacksonville totaled just 145. Launius led the Panthers with 81 yards rushing on 12 carries, including two touchdowns.

The Panthers will host Little Rock Catholic on Friday, Sept. 7 at Panther Stadium. Jacksonville will travel to Benton on the same date for its second game.