Saturday, September 27, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats pass by Panthers

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers knew they had to guard against the big play to beat North Little Rock on Friday, and not only did they give them up, they helped out on a few. The result was a 41-14 thumping by the Charging Wildcats at Panther Stadium.

Despite all the crucial mistakes, Cabot coach Mike Malham remains optimistic about his young team.

“We gave them three scores,” said Malham. “We gave one up over the top. We gave one up on a kickoff return. And we gave one away when we fumbled it down there about to score. You take those away it’s a different ball game. We’re playing five sophomores on defense and only have three starters back on offense, so we’re young. We’re getting better. We moved the ball on them and had some success. So I still think this bunch has a chance to be a really good team.”

Cabot gave its guest its first gift after the Wildcats scored on the game’s third possession to take a 7-0 lead.

Jake Ferguson took the ensuing kickoff, and after some hesitation, decided to pitch to Jarrod Barnes. Right after taking the pitch, Barnes was hit hard in the back by Jacksonville transfer Kajahn Daniels and lost the football. North Little Rock covered at the Cabot 11-yard line. Three plays later the Wildcats kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 2:14 left in the first quarter.

Cabot went for it on fourth and 1 from its own 29 on the next possession and didn’t make it. That gave the Wildcats another short field, which they took advantage of. A big gain on the first play was negated by a fumbled snap that lost 13. Two plays later, quarterback Heath Land hit Catholic transfer D.J. Brown for a 25-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead with 11:52 left in the first half.

Cabot put together a nine-play drive on the ensuing possession to get to the North Little Rock 8-yard line, where it faced fourth and 3. Again Malham elected to go for it, but the Panthers were flagged for a false start. The Panthers still went for it on fourth and 8, but Barnes’ pass for Kolton Eads was incomplete.

“We’re down 17, what’s three points going to do for you,” Malham said about the decision not to kick a short field goal. “We’re trying to get back into the game.”

Cabot caught a break on the ensuing possession when an 83-yard burst up the middle by Brown was called back for holding. The Wildcats ended up punting on the possession.

The Panthers finally got on the board with a 43-yard drive. Two runs for a combined 36 yards by Jason Schrunk were the key plays, and Kolton Eads punched it in from a yard out to make it 17-7 with 4:30 left in the half.

But the Charging Wildcats scored two more times before halftime to blow the game open.

The first came when the Panthers missed four tackles and allowed Brown to take the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for the score.

Cabot then went three-and-out, punting back to the Charging Wildcats with 2:18 left on the clock. It took just two plays from there, both receptions by Arkansas commitment and Bryant transfer K.J. Hill. The first went for 9 yards, the second for 63 down the visitors’ sideline for a 31-7 lead with 2:05 remaining.

Cabot got the ball to start the second half and drove right down the field with ease, going 74 yards in five plays with Jalen Hemphill getting the final 33 all at once to make it 31-14 with 10:40 left in the third quarter. But the Panthers never duplicated that kind of offensive success again.

North Little Rock then went on a 12-play drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal with 5:43 left in the third.

Cabot answered with a 13-play drive and had second and 5 at the NLR 10-yard line, when Eads lost the ball after a 5-yard gain and the Wildcats covered at the 4.

The Charging Wildcats responded with a 13-play, 101-yard drive that included a 5-yard illegal participation penalty. They faced only one third down the entire drive, and scored on it. Facing third and 13, Land hit Hill on a wide-receiver screen. Hill cut inside his blockers and ran 27 yards untouched for the game’s final score with 9:40 remaining.

The Panthers finished the game with 351 total yards to 343 for North Little Rock.

Almost all of the Charging Wildcats’ damage came through the air. Land completed 18 of 26 pass attempts for 302 yards and four touchdowns. Hill was his favorite target, finishing with eight catches for 166 yards and three scores.

Hemphill led Cabot with 14 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. Barnes had 12 carries for 73 yards and completed 1 of 8 pass attempts for 33 yards and one interception.

Cabot, 2-2, 0-1, will travel to 0-4 Marion next week while North Little Rock, 3-1, 1-0, hosts 0-4 Mountain Home.