Saturday, November 10, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot defense stops Bryant

Leader sports editor

Cabot stopped Cabot a few times in the first half, but Bryant never did. The Panthers were able to build a 21-7 lead after two quarters then hold off a Hornet rally late in the game to win 28-21 and advance to the second round of the class 7A state playoffs.

Cabot gave up a lot of yards through the air, but made one big play after another when it needed most to preserve the postseason road victory.

“I thought the defense played great,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I didn’t know if we could slow them down. That quarterback’s a good one and they’ve got a lot of receivers. Boy, I tell you what, we had some interceptions, some big sacks and tackles for loss. The kids in our secondary are looking better. We’re getting better. Who knows?”

Bryant got an interception with 4:55 left in the game trailing 28-14. The Hornets took over at the Cabot 44-yard line. After several strange calls and no calls by the officials, two substitution infractions by Bryant and a highly-controversial pass-interference penalty on fourth and goal from the 9, The Hornets finally put it in the end zone with 2:12 left.

Bryant tried an onside kick, but Cabot’s Colby Ferguson covered it for the Panthers. A Hornet tied Ferguson up after he was down, and the officials took a long time to make a decision, but gave Cabot the ball.

The Panthers got one first down with 6-yard runs by Zach Launius and Kyle Edgar. All that was left after that was for quarterback Kason Kimbrell to take a knee.

“We had a lot of calls go against our way,” Malham said. “We had the one call in the first half. Well I’m not going to say anything, but man they got the calls when they needed them. That’s part of football, but these kids overcame. They’re really showing some resiliency and I’m proud of them.”

Bryant scored first in the second half on a one-play, 67-yard drive. Bryant quarterback Hayden Lessenberry swung the ball down the line of scrimmage to sophomore K.J. Hill, who dodged several tacklers and outran the Cabot defense for the score to make it 21-14 with 4:46 left in the third quarter.

The two teams then traded two drives and two punts each before Cabot got back on the board and took a two-touchdown lead.

The Panther defense held Bryant to a three-and-out at the Hornet 1-yard line. The punt went just 29 yards and Cabot started at the Bryant 30.

Halfback Chris Henry got 14 on first down. Edgar rumbled for 11 more on the next play, then got the last 5 for the touchdown with 8:30 left in the game.

Cabot had more trouble moving the ball in the second half than in the first, but the defense kept the high-flying Hornet offense under control in the second half besides the one big play.

“The second half, we made some mistakes,” Malham said of his offense. “We miss a read where we think we have yards. But they’re tough inside. They always give us trouble there. So we went outside a little more than we usually do. The play-action pass was working pretty good. We missed a couple of passes or we would have had more. But we hit a few and I was just pleased. The last few weeks they’ve been playing great.”

Turnovers thwarted a couple of Cabot drives in the first half and Bryant paid back the favor with two first-half interceptions. The difference came with Cabot stopping Bryant drives on three occasions while the Hornets couldn’t slow the Panthers down when they didn’t turn it over.

The first three drives of the game ended in turnovers. Bryant threw two interceptions and Cabot threw one. The Panthers went mistake-free on their second drive and the result was eight plays that went 75 yards for the score. Halfback Chris Henry went 39 yards on the first play after Jordan Burke intercepted a Hayden Lessenberry pass at the goal line and returned it 21 yards.

Henry’s run took the ball to the Hornet 40 and the Panthers ate chunks of yardage from there. Max Carroll went five yards on first down. Fullback Zach Launius ripped off 13 more on an option pitch. Quarterback Kason Kimbrell kept on the option on the next play for 12 more yards to set up first and goal from the 10-yard line. Carroll was stopped after just two yards on first and goal, but Bryant jumped offsides on the next play to move the ball to the 4. Carroll got the rest on the next play. Jesus Marquez added the extra point to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with seven seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Bryant’s best drive followed. The Hornets were called for an illegal block on the kickoff return and started at their own 5-yard line. It didn’t matter. They needed just six plays to get that distance, even with one of the plays being a sack by Matt Griffin that resulted in a 3-yard loss. After the sack, Lessenberry hit Brushawn Hunter for a 41-yard pass play up the left seam. On the next play, Lessenberry nailed K.J. Hill on the same route for a 27-yard scoring strike that tied the game with 9:20 left in the half.

But once the Panthers held onto the ball, they couldn’t be stopped. Bryant tried an on-side kick and Cabot covered it at its own 42. It took just five plays from there, with Launius getting the last 28 with a handoff up the middle that he cut to the left side after breaking through the first layer of defenders. The PAT made it 14-7 with 7:39 left in the half.

Cabot gave up one big play on Bryant’s next drive, but finally buckled down and didn’t allow another yard. Aaron Henry knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage on third down, and Lessenberry’s fourth-down pass was short, giving the Panthers possession at their own 37.

The next Cabot drive took six plays. Henry ripped off 19 yards on second and 8. Carroll got 14 more on the next play, but was knocked out of the game by taking a hit after his helmet had been knocked off. The Panthers faced a third and three after two more plays, but Henry took an option pitch, cut inside his spy and outran the rest of the Bryant defense for a 21-yard touchdown. That gave Cabot a 21-7 lead with 3:40 remaining in the half.

The final drive of the half was full of drama, but resulted in no points. Cabot held the Hornets to a three-and-out, but fumbled the punt and gave Bryant another possession at the Panther 28. On second and 10, Lessenberry hit Hill for 20 yards to the 8-yard line. Bryant tried to get fancy on first and goal, but a halfback pass attempt resulted in Cabot’s Griffin taking down Hill for a 14-yard loss.

Both teams finished with exactly 387 yards of offense. Lessenberry threw for 383 yards. He completed 22 of 44 attempts with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Henry led the Panthers with 104 yards on nine carries, plus two receptions for 30 yards. Kimbrell ran 14 times for 76 yards and Launius had 12 carries for 64.

Griffin finished the game with three sacks for the Panthers’ defense.

Cabot (7-4) travels to North Little Rock next Friday.