Saturday, November 17, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats too good for Cabot

Leader sports editor

Cabot coach Mike Malham summed it up.

“They’re good,” he said of North Little Rock. They’ve got seniors at every position, size, speed. Basically they just wore us out in that second half. There’s not much you can say. They’re just better.”

Those comments came minutes after the clock ran out on North Little Rock’s 28-0 victory over Malham’s Panthers in the quarterfinals of the class 7A state playoffs Friday night at North Little Rock Stadium. It was the second meeting between the two teams and the second time the Charging Wildcats dominated the last half of the game.

North Little Rock led just 7-0 at halftime on Friday, scoring on the third of five drives.

But the second half was all North Little Rock. Cabot (7-5) did not even get a first down in the second half until its last drive that ran out the clock. The Panthers’ three drives in the third quarter were a combined nine plays, zero yards and three punts.

Conversely, North Little Rock (10-1) couldn’t be stopped, scoring on the first three of its four drives. The final drive halted at the goal line when sophomore defensive back Jake Ferguson got his second interception of the game and returned it to the 4-yard line.

Cabot managed 102 yards rushing in the first half, but totaled 49 yards in the second half, with 41 coming on the last drive.

“We got in some different fronts defensively,” North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding said. “We did some stuff they hadn’t seen in a couple years. We started slanting on defense. That’s a really good football team we just played and we held them to no score. I’m really proud of the way the guys battled.”

North Little Rock compiled 170 yards of offense in the first half, but found the going tough early on. The Wildcats showed two new plays. One came on the first play of the game when senior running back Altee Tenpenny attempted a halfback pass. Everything about the play worked perfectly except the throw. Receiver Aaron Adams was running alone down the sidelines, but Tenpenny, showing a surprisingly strong arm, overthrew the sprinting receiver by about eight yards.

That drive went three and out, and North Little Rock’s second drive picked up 50 yards before stalling at the Cabot 28 on downs.

Things got going on the Wildcats’ third drive. Tenpenny picked up 11 yards on first down and 14 on second down to move the ball to the 46-yard line. Two plays later on third and 7, fullback Deion Tidwell took a screen pass from Payton Holmes 22 yards to the 29-yard line. On the next play, junior running back Juan Day rumbled up the middle for 29 yards and the score to make it 7-0 with 9:54 left in the first half.

Neither team moved the ball much the rest of the half, before the Wildcats’ domination began in the third quarter.

After holding Cabot to three and out on the opening possession of the half, North Little Rock went 77 yards in 12 plays, converting on third down three times along the way. The key play came on third and 16 from the Cabot 30-yard line. Holmes dropped back as if to pass, but handed off to Tenpenny, who went 22 yards on the draw play.

Adams scored two plays later on third and goal from the 6 on an inverted wide-receiver screen. Sandy Burks’ extra point made it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.

After another three and out by Cabot, North Little Rock scored despite 46 yards in penalties on the drive. Starting from their own 40, the Wildcats were called for two penalties on first down. The first was a 10-yard spot foul for an illegal block that happened 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

They were also called for a personal foul at the end of the play. It set up first and 42 from the 8-yard line, but the Wildcats’ converted it easily. Tidwell took another inside screen 16 yards on first down, and Juan Day barreled ahead for 27 yards on second down to set up first down at the Cabot 47. On the next play, Tenpenny was called for a personal foul when he kicked a Cabot defender in the face trying to hurdle the tackler in the open field. The gain was 1 yard, so the penalty set up first and 24 from the North Little Rock 39. Still, it was a small matter for the rolling home team. Day got six yards on first down. Rodney Bryson called a Holmes pass for 17 yards on second down, and Day got 8 more on third down to set up first down at the Cabot 30. Day, Tidwell, Tenpenny and Bryson each got carries from there, with Tenpenny gaining the last 11 yards for the score with 1:04 left in the third.

The last touchdown drive went 51 yards in six plays with Day chewing up the last 28 yards on carries of 17 and 11. His second touchdown of the game made set the final margin with 9:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Offensively we were able to wear them down,” Bolding said. “Cabot’s a good football team, they’re a lot better than the last time we played them. We really worked this week with our defensive ends trying to shove and close and keep them off our linebackers. Cabot did a good job the first time we played of getting some good hits actually on our linebackers. Those guys have been talking all week. They really wanted to come in tonight and have a big game.”

Tenpenny led all rushers with 141 yards on 16 carries. Day finished with 121 yards on 13 carries. North Little Rock finished with 425 total yards of offense. Quarterbacks Holmes and Heath Land combined for 138 yards passing.

North Little Rock will host Fayetteville at 7 p.m. next Friday at North Little Rock Stadium. The Bulldogs beat Conway 38-17 on Friday. The other semifinal game will be between Bentonville and Fort Smith Southside. Bentonville beat West Memphis 42-0 while Southside beat Spring-dale Har-Ber 24-22.