Saturday, October 13, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers falter on final drive at Central

Special to The Leader

The Cabot Panthers and Little Rock Central Tigers provided the fans in attendance an entertaining four quarters of football, but in the end some costly mistakes from the Panthers defense were what sealed their fate in a 21-14 loss at Quigley-Cox Stadium on Friday night.

Cabot’s defense committed a disastrous pass interference penalty late in the game to give the Tigers (2-5, 1-3) a new set of downs at the Panthers’ 12-yard line to set up the winning score by running back Logan Moragne. Chris Henry almost got it back for Cabot on the following kickoff when he ran the return back 98 yards to the end zone, but the play was called back on a clipping penalty. With less than a minute remaining, the offense was not able to go the rest of the way in time.

“They just out-coached us, they outplayed us,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We just didn’t get the job done. We had chances to put it in the end zone. They just basically did what it took to win and we didn’t. Tough fought game but they made the big plays and we didn’t.”

Cabot’s defense forced Moragne to fumble on Central’s first possession. Cabot recovered the fumble and turned the game’s first turnover into the game’s first score thanks to the Panthers run game, led by senior running back Kyle Edgar. Runs from Edgar, Russ Rankin, and quarterback Brandon Boatright helped string together a 65-yard drive ending in an 18-yard touchdown run from Rankin. Tigers quarterback Cooper Westbrook proved effective at moving the ball through the air, especially when running outside of the pocket. He was able to connect with receivers Reggie Harris, A.J. Tucker, and Terrien Griham to force the ball into Cabot’s red zone, but an 8-yard gain on 4th and 9 forced a turnover on downs.

Near the beginning of the second quarter, Cabot (4-3, 2-2) attempted a fake punt near midfield on 4th and 7. Edgar bobbled the snap and lost 17 yards while attempting to recover the loose football. Central started its next drive on Cabot’s 36-yard line.

Westbrook continued to have success passing, connecting with Harris three more times, finding him on an out route for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Although Cabot earned most of its yards on the ground throughout the night, Boatright earned the majority of yardage through the air on the ensuing drive.

He completed two passes to junior tight end Timothy Pledger, one for 38 yards and another for 13. Pledger broke several tackles on the 38-yarder, the Panthers’ longest play of the night. Senior running back Max Carroll finished off the drive with a 16-yard outside run for the touchdown.

But with one minute remaining in the first half, the Tigers put together a 64-yard drive in just four plays. Completions to Jeremiah Jaffe and Harris and a run from Moragne setup a 32-yard touchdown pass from Westbrook to Tucker with just nine seconds remaining in the half. Both teams headed to the locker rooms with the score deadlocked at 14.

Cabot opened the second half with a three-and-out, and Central pushed the ball down the field with more passes from Westbrook and runs from Moragne. But Cabot was able to make two key red zone stops on third and fourth down to force another turnover.

Cabot’s next drive was the longest of the night in both yardage and time consumed. The Panthers nickel-and-dimed it up the field with a collection of runs mostly from the legwork of Edgar, but Boatright and Carroll each got in a couple runs to keep the defense honest. The Panthers pushed the ball to the Tigers 11-yard line, but when faced with 4th-and-4 situation, a 2-yard run from Edgar proved ineffective at moving the chains.

With 4:27 left to go in the game, Central got the ball on its own 42. Westbrook hooked up with Harris for a 20-yard pass, and Moragne’s legwork got them another 10 yards. With 2nd and 9 on Cabot’s 26-yard line, Westbrook threw two incomplete passes to bring up fourth down with 2:00 remaining.