Saturday, September 13, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers plow under Rockets

Leader sportswriter

Cabot ran all over Little Rock Catholic in the Panthers’ home opener Friday night at Panther Stadium en route to a dominant 62-14 nonconference victory.

Catholic couldn’t stop the Panther offense from start to finish, but especially in the first half. In the first half alone, the Panthers totaled 291 yards of offense, bettering the Rockets’ first-half total of 173, and 285 of Cabot’s first-half yardage came on the ground.

“We got something we’ve never had before,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “We’ve got some difference-makers. Jarrod (Barnes), I don’t know how many yards he had, but he ran the option great. He did good last week, too.”

Barnes led the Panther rushing attack in the first half. He didn’t carry the ball at all in the second half, but the talented sophomore starting quarterback still finished with 102 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just eight carries.

After forcing a three-and-out on the game’s first possession, Cabot (1-1) scored on its first play from scrimmage.

Junior fullback Kolton Eads took the handoff from Barnes 58 yards for the game’s first score. Christian Underwood’s extra-point kick sailed through the uprights to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.

The Panther defense scored the next touchdown. Catholic (0-2) managed to pick up a couple of first downs on its second offensive possession, but on the eighth play of the Rockets’ drive, senior standout free safety Jake Ferguson showed why he’s the state’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

On that play, Catholic tailback Lance Harville-Thomas fumbled the ball. Ferguson scooped it up in stride and raced 73 yards down the visitors’ sideline for a touchdown. Underwood’s extra point made it 14-0 Cabot with 6:43 left in the first quarter.

The Rockets were, however, able to find the end zone on the ensuing drive. With 5:49 remaining in the opening quarter, Catholic quarterback Andre Sale found wideout Trey Purifoy deep down the right hash mark that resulted in a 61-yard touchdown strike. The successful PAT made it 14-7.

It didn’t take Cabot’s offense long to respond. After picking up a first down on three-straight runs by Eads, Barnes broke for a 21-yard run on an option keeper.

Barnes’ only incomplete pass of the night followed, but he then pitched to running back Jalen Hemphill on an option left play, and Hemphill went 46 yards for another Panther touchdown. Underwood’s successful PAT made it 21-7 Cabot with 3:35 left in the opening quarter.

The Panther defense forced another three-and-out on the following Rocket possession, and Cabot found the end zone again, this one on a Barnes option keeper. Barnes took the option keep 27 yards for the touchdown on the fifth play of the drive, and the extra point made it 28-7 Panthers with 23 seconds left in the first.

Catholic was the first team to score in the second quarter. With 6:38 remaining in the opening half, the Rockets capped a seven-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak by Sale, and the successful PAT cut the Catholic deficit to 28-14.

Cabot, though, found the end zone on its next two possessions to go into halftime with a comfortable 42-14 lead. The first score came with 4:12 left in the half.

It was Barnes who took another option keeper and ran off his right tackle for a 59-yard touchdown burst, and the second came on the first play of the Panthers’ next drive, but was set up by a great defensive play.

On the second play of Catholic’s drive, senior nose guard Tristan Bulice intercepted a halfback screen pass intended for Harville-Thomas at the Catholic 12-yard line. On the Panthers’ next offensive snap, Hemphill broke for a 12-yard touchdown run with 3:50 to go in the half. Underwood’s successful PAT set the halftime margin.

Catholic tried to put together another successful drive before the half ended, but on the fifth play of that drive, Ferguson got his first interception of the year at the Panther 10-yard line, and returned it all the way to the Cabot 39. It was Ferguson’s 13th career interception.

“Jake had another great game,” Malham said. “He scooped and scored on one, and had a pick right before the half.”

Cabot went three-and-out on the first offensive series of the second half, but the Panther defense forced Catholic’s fourth turnover of the game on the fourth play of the Rockets’ first drive of the second half.

Harville-Thomas fumbled again, and Jack Teague covered it for Cabot, setting the Panther offense up at the Rocket 47-yard line. Cabot took advantage of the good field positioning, scoring on the seventh play of the drive, which was a 7-yard run off the right tackle by Hemphill. It was Hemphill’s third touchdown run of the game.

Underwood’s successful PAT made it 49-14 Cabot with 5:38 left in the third quarter, which invoked the sportsmanship rule. After the Panther defense forced another Catholic three-and-out, Malham put his second unit in, and the Rockets still couldn’t stop the Panthers’ Dead-T attack.

With 10:39 left in the game, the Cabot offense capped an eight-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jess Reed, and the extra point made it 56-14 Panthers.

Catholic turned the ball over on downs on the following possession, and the Panthers set the final score their next offensive series. Five-straight run plays ended with 5-foot-6, 143-pound sophomore running back, David Morse, busting one up the middle for a 32-yard TD run with 6:02 remaining.

Underwood was going for his ninth-straight successful PAT after Morse’s touchdown run, but the ball was fumbled on the hold, and Underwood was unable to get a kick off. Malham was pleased with his team’s performance, regardless.

“Maybe we got something here, I don’t know,” Malham said. “One game doesn’t make a season. Catholic played North Little Rock good last week, so we were very concerned, but if we keep getting better I think we may have a chance.

“We’re not there yet, but if we keep getting better every week, and that’s what we normally do, maybe we’ve got a chance.”

Cabot finished with 444 yards of offense, 416 of which came via the run game. Three different Panther backs had over 100 yards rushing. Barnes led the way with his 102 yards and two scores on eight carries.

Eads and Hemphill each ran for exactly 100 yards. Eads did it on 11 carries and finished with one touchdown. Hemphill had nine carries and his three scores. Barnes was 2 for 3 passing for 28 yards, one of which was a 22-yarder to Ferguson.

Catholic was held to 216 yards of offense, and had a total of six turnovers.

The Panthers will travel to Little Rock Fair next week for the final nonconference game of the year. That game will kick off at 7 p.m.