Saturday, November 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win outright title

Leader sports editor

When Cabot led 31-0 in the second quarter on Friday at Lion Stadium in Searcy, all indications were that it would be another mercy rule blowout against an overmatched 6A team, but that never materialized as Searcy battled evenly with the Panthers the rest of the game. Cabot still won 44-14, finished the regular season undefeated and clinched an outright conference championship and a number one seed in the playoffs, but head coach Mike Malham didn’t seem like an entirely pleased coach at the end of the game.

“Sometimes when you start out and it’s so easy, you have a little letdown like we did in the first half,” Malham said. “What I was disappointed in was how we came out in the second half. We just didn’t come out sharp at all and they shut us down two times in a row. That hasn’t happened very much this season against anybody, not moving it at all two straight drives. But you know, we’re celebrating a conference championship so we’re not going to rain on it too much right now.”

Everything was easy for Cabot in the first quarter. The Panthers forced a three and out to start the game and went 55 yards in two plays for the first score. Quarterback Kason Kimbrell kept for 15 yards on the first snap, and the halfback dive to Chris Henry got the rest with 10:14 left in the first quarter.

Searcy got one first down thanks to a Cabot penalty on third and 5 on its next drive, but punted from its own 30 after that. This time, it took the Panthers 6 plays to again go 55 yards.

Fullback Zach Launius got the key play, a 31-yard burst up the middle to the 12-yard line. Three plays later, Henry scored from 3 yards out with 4:05 left in the opening quarter.

After another defensive stop, Cabot was on its way to the goal line again. Halfback Dylan Thompson broke loose for a 20-yard gain, but was stripped at the 5 and Searcy recovered on its own 3-yard line.

Another three-and-out got the Panthers’ offense the ball again early in the second quarter, and it went 54 yards in seven plays to go up 21-0. Kimbrell found receiver Jake Ferguson open for a 39-yard reception to the 6-yard line on the fifth play of the drive. Kimbrell kept for the final 2 yards with 8:11 left in the half.

The Lions put together their best drive of the first half on the ensuing possession. Ferguson helped the home team out with a personal foul penalty that put it at the Cabot 22, but the Lions couldn’t capitalize.

Electing to go for the first down on fourth and 4 at the 16, quarterback Christian Reynolds was bottled up for a 1-yard gain and Cabot took possession at its own 15.

On the first play of the ensuing possession, halfback Preston Jones broke loose for a 74-yard gain to the Lion 11. After one incomplete pass, Jones took another handoff and went the final 11 yards for the score. Trevor Reed’s extra point made it 28-0 with 2:28 left in the first half, but the scoring was far from over.

Cabot used its three timeouts on defense to get the ball back. A 30-yard punt return by Henry gave Cabot the ball at the Searcy 21-yard line with 2:00 on the clock, but they had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Reed with 1:02 remaining that made it 31-0.

Reed’s next kickoff was the first one of the game that didn’t go into the end zone for a touchback, and there was a heavy price to pay. Searcy’s Karonce Higgins fielded the kick at the 3-yard line and ran straight up the middle between the hash marks 97 yards for the score to make it 31-7 with 46 seconds remaining.

Cabot started the next possession from its own 27, but picked up 59 yards on the first play when Kimbrell hit Ferguson on a short slant. The first defender missed with no safety in the backfield, allowing Ferguson to get to the 14-yard line.

The officials tacked on another 7 for a horse-collar tackle and another three and a half after that for lining up off-sides. Kimbrell then hit Henry on a 3-yard rollout pass with 11 seconds left, but the extra point was no good, leaving it 37-7 at halftime.

Cabot went three and out on the first possession of the second half, and Searcy drove 50 yards in seven plays to make it 37-14 with 6:55 left in the third quarter. Tailback Anthony Arnold finally found some daylight on the read option handoff, and rumbled up the middle for 30 yards and the score.

The two teams traded possessions before Cabot got its only touchdown of the second half on its third drive. It was a seven-play, 70-yard drive with Launius picking up 50 of it on the fifth play. The extra point set the final margin with 11:46 remaining in the game.

Cabot finished with 454 yards of offense, but only 115 in the second half. Searcy had 127 yards in the second half and finished with 186 total.

Launius was again the yardage leader with 11 carries for 112 yards, though he got 81 yards on two of those carries and was bottled up most of the night.

“They were gambling quite a bit on defense to stop that fullback and they guessed right a few times,” Malham said. “Of course you saw when they guessed wrong, Launius burned them.”

Cabot also had a rare 100-yard receiver. Ferguson caught three passes for 104 yards. Kimbrell completed four of eight attempts for 107 and one touchdown. Henry had three carries for 47 yards and two touchdowns and one catch for 3 yards and a score.

Jones had three carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Cabot gets a first-round bye in the state playoffs and won’t be back in action until Nov. 22 when it hosts next Friday’s winner between Fayetteville and Little Rock Central.