Tuesday, November 05, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot cleaning up penalties

Leader sports editor

Cabot had a tough time for about two and a half quarters last Friday at Jonesboro, but managed to pull away in the latter stages of the second half for a 42-14 win. The Panthers scored 35 unanswered points to invoke the sportsmanship rule in that game, and hopes to carry that momentum into their season finale at Searcy at 7 p.m. this Friday.

The Lions have improved quite a bit since last season, but will still be heavy underdogs when the Panthers pay a visit.

Even if Searcy does the unimaginable and pulls off an upset, it will still be Cabot’s last game for two weeks, as the Panthers have locked up a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the class 7A state playoffs.

If Cabot were to lose this weekend, North Little Rock and Conway could still tie the Panthers’ conference record, but both lose the head-to-head tiebreaker and points work out in the Panthers’ favor as well.

“We’re in good shape for the playoffs, but we don’t want to relax and slack off,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “You do that and you regress. This is the wrong time of the year to start regressing.”

Cabot certainly has some things to work on as it heads toward Friday’s finale and the playoffs. The Panthers have received personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in each of its last two games, and were called for several 15-yard penalties at Jonesboro.

“We definitely can’t keep getting those kinds of penalties,” Malham said. “Let’s see, in the first quarter we got a pass interference, got called for going below the knee on the pulling guards, got a personal foul for a late hit, an unsportsmanlike conduct. You give a team four 15-yard penalties in the first quarter, you’re probably going to be behind.”

Cabot never trailed Jonesboro, but didn’t touch the ball almost the entire first half. The Panthers scored first, then practically marched the ball down the field for the Hurricane offense, helping them to the end zone. After the score, Jonesboro covered an onside kick and went down the field again before Jake Ferguson intercepted a pass near the goal line late in the second quarter.

The Panthers scored quickly again, then got a turnover deep in Jonesboro’s territory and scored again just before halftime to go into intermission up 21-7.

“They definitely made us work for it,” Malham said. “We helped them out quite a bit but we were able to overcome it. It was probably good to see a little adversity and overcome it. We saw a lot of adversity early in that game.”

Searcy’s most recent performance should give Cabot some extra motivation. The Lions pulled off its best win of the season last week, beating West Memphis 35-34. Searcy lost 40-0 to Jonesboro the week before, but West Memphis beat Jonesboro earlier this season.

“They definitely showed a lot of improvement from one week to the other,” Malham said of the Lions. “It looks like they’re starting to put some things together on offense. They’ve had trouble stopping people all year, but they looked good on offense last week.”

The Panthers will be without linebacker and leading tackler Jake Vaughn, who is out with an illness, but he should be back by the second round of the playoffs. Cabot is otherwise healthy.

Fullback Zach Launius, who has already become Cabot’s first 1,000-yard back since 2009, has a chance to go over 1,300 yards this week. He currently has 1,242 rushing yards this season in just eight games. He sat out the Conway game with concussion-like symptoms.

If Cabot invokes the sportsmanship rule this week, it will be for the third-straight game. With a week off for the first round, it could be five weeks since the Panthers have played a team that was very competitive. Malham sees the drawback in that, but mostly enjoys having a bye.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Malham said. “I think it’s kind of nice to have a week to just go back and work on fundamentals, where you don’t have to worry about specific game-planning. You get to rest your bumps and bruises and if you’ve got some injuries. I’m fine with it.”