Saturday, September 28, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot powers past Wildcats

Leader sports editor

As competition rises, so does the Cabot football team’s level of play. The latest improvement came Friday when the Panthers controlled the line of scrimmage in a 48-32 victory over No. 1 ranked North Little Rock at Charging Wildcat Stadium.

Cabot coach Mike Malham, who has heaped praise on his team after recent wins, was more guarded after Friday’s triumph over a nationally ranked team.

“I was just pleased we got the win,” said Malham. “We’re 1-0 in conference and that’s the main thing. We talked about starting a new season and we can’t get complacent. Now’s when we decide if we want to stay in shape, work hard and get better, or do we want to slack off and regress. We’ve got some confidence now. We’ve beat two pretty good teams the last two weeks. We know we can play with just about anybody if we keep working hard and learn our lessons.”

Cabot fullback Zach Launius carried the ball 38 times for 221 yards and four touchdowns in his first game back after suffering a concussion and missing last week’s game. The senior was 0-4 in his career against North Little Rock, but also tempered his emotions as he looked ahead.

“It feels amazing to get the win after going 0-4 the last two years,” said Launius. “I think we’ve put ourselves on the radar, but we’ve still got a lot of improvement to do. We’ve got some tough teams left in conference and we could very easily be playing North Little Rock again in the playoffs. And I know they’ll be better. There are some really good teams in the northwest I know we’ll have to beat to attain our goals, so we’re just going to go back and try to keep getting better.”

Cabot (4-0, 1-0) took a 21-18 lead into halftime, but trailed 248-224 in total yardage at the break. In each of last year’s two games between Cabot and North Little Rock, scores were close at halftime until the Wildcats wore Cabot down late. The opposite took place on Friday.

The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and easily drove 61 yards in nine plays. Launius scored his third touchdown of the game on third and 1 when he broke loose for a 26-yard gain. The extra point made it 28-18.

The game’s first big break came on North Little Rock’s first play of the second half. Quarterback Heath Land dropped the shotgun snap and before he could reach down to pick it up, Cabot nose guard Tristan Bulice burst into the backfield and covered it at the Wildcat 23.

It took Cabot seven plays from there. Halfback Chris Henry gained 5 yards on third and 1 to set up first and goal at the 2. It took Launius three carries to get it in from there, but he did so with 4:54 left in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 34-18 lead.

North Little Rock (2-2, 0-1) lost 12 yards on its next possession, but also forced a three-and-out by Cabot. The Panthers again forced the Wildcats backwards 4 yards to force another punt.

This time they scored again. After three plays gained 11 yards, quarterback Kason Kimbrell kept for 17 to the 48-yard line. The Panthers then ran the counter to Henry, who took it 52 yards for the score and a 41-18 Cabot lead.

Cabot decided to blitz for the first time on the ensuing possession, and it resulted in a 52-yard touchdown reception on a crossing pattern by Devohn Lindsey.

The Wildcats went for two, but didn’t make it despite two Cabot penalties that put the ball inside the 1-yard line. Deion Tidwell was stuffed at the line scrimmage, leaving it 41-24 with 10:44 remaining in the game.

Kimbrell threw and interception on Cabot’s next drive, but Panther safety Jake Ferguson returned the favor and returned his pick 44 yards to the North Little Rock 16. After a 9-yard run by Launius and a 6-yarder by Henry, backup fullback Jack Whisker got the last yard and a touchdown to make it 48-24 with 6:45 remaining.

K.J. Hill caught his second touchdown pass of the game on the next possession to set the final margin.

Malham didn’t breathe easy until the final buzzer.

“I’m tired,” Malham said. “They’ve got so many athletes they’re never out of it. They can get you with one play and we saw that a couple of times tonight. This is one of the better secondaries we’ve had and they burned us a few times. That last touchdown they had, our guy was right in the perfect spot and the kid just goes up over him and gets it. You can’t rest against a team with athletes like that.”

An eventful first half saw seven combined scores, with North Little Rock scoring four times to Cabot’s three.

The Charging Wildcats got the ball first and got on the board first with a 50-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal.

Cabot answered with a 54-yard drive that was kept alive by a fourth and 3 conversion on a counter run by Henry. With first down at the Wildcat 30, Kimbrell ran the option for the first time in the game and broke loose for 20 yards to set up first and goal at the 10.

The same play in the other direction was good for 10 yards and a touchdown by Kimbrell with 3:15 left in the first quarter.

North Little Rock put together another long drive on its next possession. The Wildcats drove 69 yards in 14 plays, but couldn’t get into the end zone as Cabot’s defense held after facing first and goal from the 3.

The Wildcats settled for another field goal, leaving the score 7-6 with 11:07 left in the first half.

Cabot answered right back, going 58 yards in four plays. The big one was a 39-yard jaunt down the left sideline by halfback Preston Jones on second and 4. That set up first down at the 13 and Launius did the rest. He bulled his way for 8 yards on first down, then got the last five on the next play. The extra point was no good, leaving the score 13-6 with 9:40 left in the half.

The Wildcats finally got in the end zone after a first and goal. Land hit Tavian Anderson for a 6-yard pass with 7:52 left to make it 13-12.

North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding called for a two-point attempt, even after the Wildcats were called for an illegal shift. From the 7-yard line, Hill lined up at quarterback and threw incomplete over the middle.

The Wildcats stopped Cabot after one first down and took over after a punt on their own 12. On the first play, Land found Hill streaking down the home sideline and behind every Cabot defender. The play was good for 88 yards and gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

Cabot answered on the next drive. Launius broke loose for a 47-yard touchdown run with 3:20 left in the half.

The Panthers gained 458 total yards with all but 9 coming on the ground. Henry carried seven times for 89 yards while Kimbrell carried eight times for 81. North Little Rock gained 426 yards. Hill, who had five receptions for 120 yards in the first half, finished with eight catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns.