Saturday, September 22, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats outlast tough Panthers

Leader sportswriter

In Friday’s 7A/6A East Conference opener, Cabot did just about all it could to hang with a highly-talented North Little Rock team, but in the second half the Charging Wildcats were simply too much to handle as they won 33-14 at Panther Stadium.

Last week at Conway, Cabot gave up 312 yards rushing in a 10-point loss. North Little Rock, led by standout senior running back Altee Tenpenny, had equal success as the Wildcats racked up 294 yards on the ground. But Cabot was also torched through the air.

Quarterbacks Payton Holmes and Heath Land completed 14 of 17 passes combined for 159 yards and two scores. Cabot’s secondary has had to overcome injuries that started in the summer and the inexperience showed against the Wildcats.

“We lost one last week and his replacement went out quick,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham about the Panthers’ secondary. “So now we’re down to another set. That’s been our weakness in the secondary because of the speed factor. But I thought the kids that played, played hard and they made us miss in the open field some, but good athletes are going to do that.”

Cabot got the ball first and had a promising start. The Panthers’ Dead-T offense melted just over seven minutes off the clock as they marched 15 plays down the field with 14 straight runs. On the final play of the drive with all eleven defenders stacking the box, quarterback Kason Kimbrell found tight end Keith Pledger in between the hash marks for a seven-yard score.

Jesus Marquez kicked the extra point to give Cabot an early 7-0 lead. But it didn’t last. It took North Little Rock just three plays and 54 seconds of clock to score after Tenpenny burst 53 yards down the visiting sideline for the touchdown. The extra point was good and the score was tied at 7.

The Wildcats took the lead on its next possession after Holmes hit junior running back Juan Day on a screen pass. Day took the reception 18 yards into the end zone and after the extra point, NLR led 14-7.

Cabot used some trickery to catch the Wildcats’ defense off guard on the Panthers’ fourth drive. On a fake sweep to Max Carroll, Russ Rankin took the ball and ran 61 yards to the Wildcats’ 10-yard line. Three plays later, Kyle Edgar punched in the score and after the EP the score was tied at 14.

The Panthers’ defense forced a turnover on a fumble by Tenpenny with under two minutes to go in the half, but what happened on Cabot’s ensuing drive changed the game.

Cabot turned the ball over at its own seven-yard line on a failed option pitch.

Three plays later and with 49 seconds to go in the half, Holmes hit tight end Cameron Williams on the opposite side of the field for a six-yard score. Sandy Burks’ extra point was good and North Little Rock led 21-14 at the break.

The Wildcats’ offense picked up where it left off in the second half and found the end zone again on a 13-play drive capped off by a six-yard score from Tenpenny with 6:36 to play in the third. Cabot’s offense tried to answer with 18 straight runs after starting on its own 24. But on fourth and goal inside the 1-yard line, the Panthers were stopped as fullback Zach Launius tried to plow his way into the end zone.

“We came out swinging and I thought our guys controlled the line of scrimmage,” said North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding. “That’s where the game’s going to be won, and we needed to open the holes for our running backs. We have several special kids back there.

“Our defense did a great job. That big fourth down there on the inch-yard line was a huge stop. It kind of stopped the mojo on their side, but hats off to Cabot. What they do is tough to stop.”

Day ran in the final score of the night on a 51-yard run with 6:32 to go in the fourth.

The Wildcats’ offense more than doubled Cabot’s in total yards with 453 to the Panthers’ 224.

Tenpenny led all ball carriers with 174 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Day totaled 114 yards of offense to go with his two touchdowns. Launius led Cabot’s rushing attack with 81 yards on 18 carries.

Cabot will travel to Marion next Friday to try and get its first win in 7A/6A East play. North Little Rock will host West Memphis.