Saturday, October 19, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot fights for victory over Central

Leader sports editor

Yards weren’t as easy to come by as they’ve been in recent games, but the Cabot Panthers found a way to get another victory, beating Little Rock Central 35-20 in a hard-fought matchup Friday at Panther Stadium.

Cabot scored on a safety and a fake punt, committed two turnovers, but also forced two in an entertaining high school football game.

Both teams made costly mistakes on offense. Cabot lost two fumbles in the third quarter inside the Central 2-yard line. Central threw two interceptions that each led to Cabot scores.

Cabot won the yardage margin by just 30 yards and struggled to contain Central quarterback Cooper Westbrook.

The Panthers picked up 363 total yards with 344 coming on the ground. The Tigers gained 333 yards and got 259 of that through the air.

“They’ve got talent,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “They’ve got talent all over the field. Their skill people are dangerous. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times, fumbling the ball away going in, but the defense stepped up again and played pretty well.”

Cabot (7-0, 4-0) took an 18-7 lead into halftime and neither team scored in the third quarter, but the fourth quarter featured four touchdowns, two by each team.

Cabot got the ball to start the second half and drove to the Central 11-yard line where it faced third and 2. Fullback Zach Launius got the call and picked up 5 yards before taking a hard hit that popped the ball into the air. Central’s Jermaine Johnson caught and ran it back out to the 13-yard line. Central then faced fourth and 1 at the 22, went for it and was stuffed by the Panther defense. But after getting to the 8-yard line, a bad option pitch careened off halfback Chris Henry’s knee and was covered by the Tigers.

Central (4-3, 2-1) drove to midfield, but on third and 2, Cabot defensive tackle Aaron Henry forced Westbrook out of the pocket and hurried his throw. Defensive end Brian Marshall made the interception and returned it 20 yards to the Tiger 31.

This time there was no fumble, and the Panthers scored in six plays. Launius got the last 5 on first down and Trevor Reed’s extra point made it 25-7 with 9:54 left in the game.

“Even with an 18, 19-point lead, you can’t relax against this team,” Malham said. “They’ve got too many weapons.”

Central displayed those weapons on its next drive. Four different receivers caught passes and tailback Logan Moragne carried twice for 13 yards. The drive almost stalled at the 12 when Marshall forced a bad throw that cornerback Colby Ferguson knocked down in the end zone. That set up fourth down, but Westbrook hit Tom Coulter on an inside wide-receiver screen and Coulter went untouched into the end zone. A failed two-point conversion left it 25-13 with 7:06 left in the game.

Cabot then made the play of the game. Facing fourth and 3 at the Central 42, Cabot lined up to punt, but snapped it to Launius, who was in the up back position. Launius easily got the first down, but cut to the right sideline, outran a few defenders to the corner, then broke two tackles for a 42-yard touchdown run with 2:55 left in the game.

Central added another score on a 68-yard drive that took just 93 seconds to make it 32-20.

Cabot took over at the Central 49 after covering an onside kick. Launius got 13 yards in two plays, and the officials tacked on 15 more for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Tiger linebacker Caleb Gourley slammed Launius to the ground well after the whistle. That moved the ball to the 20-yard line with three seconds to play, and Malham called for the special teams unit to try a field goal. Reed’s attempt sailed just inside the left upright to set the final margin.

“That was just because of that 13-point rule,” Malham said. “I never would have done that but when you don’t have conferences, and you’re being matched up on points with teams from other conferences, you could get into a tie pretty easily. You only get credit for up to a 13-point win, so we had to get the points. And if it hadn’t been for that penalty at the end we wouldn’t have tried it.”

Cabot’s other interception came on the first play of the game. Jake Vaughn was in good position and made the catch on a pass slightly behind the intended receiver to set Cabot up at the Central 46. The Panthers gained 41 yards and kicked a 22-yard field goal to open the scoring.

Central started at its 20 and moved to midfield before back-to-back sacks by Brandon Allinder, with an assist by Tristan Bulice on the second one, forced the Tigers into fourth and 34.

Cabot took over on its 35 and drove 65 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 24-yard run by Henry on the counter for a 10-0 lead with 21 seconds left in the first quarter.

Central scored on its next drive, going 65 yards in 10 plays with Westbrook hitting tight end Alex Kincaid from 12 yards out to make it 10-7 with 9:59 left in the first half.

Cabot got two first downs on its next drive but was forced to punt from midfield. Keith Pledger’s punt landed at the 15 and rolled inside the one-foot line.

Cabot thought it had scored a defensive touchdown on the play when Westbrook’s attempted throwaway bounced off the back of Moragne’s lower leg, popped into the air where it was snagged by Vaughn. But the officials ruled that Westbrook had stepped out of the back of the end zone before the throw, giving Cabot a safety and a 12-7 lead.

The Panthers tacked on the final score of the second half on the ensuing possession, marching 52 yards in eight plays. A failed two-point conversion left it 18-7.

Westbrook completed 19 of 29 attempts for 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. McCarty led Central receivers with seven catches for 82 yards. Moragne finished with 118 offensive yards, picking up 27 on two catches and 91 on 22 carries.

Launius carried 34 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Preston Jones had 11 carries for 59 yards while Henry had six carries for 40 yards and a score.

The Panthers will host West Memphis next week. The Blue Devils beat Marion 42-13 on Friday. Central will face Mountain Home, 42-21 losers to Jonesboro.