Saturday, October 18, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Injured Cabot limps to loss

Leader sportswriter

Injuries and miscues contributed heavily to Cabot’s 17-3 loss to Little Rock Central on Friday at Quigley-Cox Stadium in Little Rock. With the loss, the Panthers’ record falls to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in 7A/6A-East play.

Senior free safety/receiver Jake Ferguson didn’t suit up Friday night for the Panthers. He suffered a torn meniscus last week against West Memphis, and Cabot coach Mike Malham said he’s out for at least four weeks, maybe even the season.

The Panthers’ offensive line has been banged up as well, and dual-threat quarterback Jarrod Barnes hurt his thumb late in the first half Friday night against the Tigers, and didn’t take a snap in the second half.

Ferguson is also the team’s backup quarterback, so Malham had to turn to his third-string QB, Logan Melder, for the second half. Melder starts at corner in the Panther secondary.

“He hurt his thumb right before the half and he couldn’t take a snap,” said Malham of Barnes. “They said it wasn’t broke. They taped it up, but he couldn’t get a snap. So now we’re down to our third quarterback because Jake’s out.

“Melder had to come in and we had a few fumbled snaps there, but he did the best he could. We’re not real deep. We’ve got a couple of pretty good players, but we probably lost our best two players tonight with Jake out and now Jarrod.”

Unable to take a snap, Barnes lined up at corner for the Panthers in the second half, but also hurt his shoulder on a hit at the very end of the game, and the extent of that injury will be evaluated early next week.

Even with Barnes at quarterback in the first half, the Panthers’ offense couldn’t find the end zone, even though it got close a couple of times in the second quarter. Cabot moved the ball into Central territory on its first offensive drive, but a Barnes fumble on the sixth play of the drive allowed the Tigers to take over at their own 28.

Central (4-3, 3-1) responded with a 14-play drive that was capped with a 31-yard field goal by Wesley Wahls with 1:34 left in the opening quarter, making it a 3-0 game. Cabot’s last two possessions of the first half ended with turnovers on downs inside the Central 5-yard line.

Cabot’s most promising opportunity to find the end zone came on the last drive. After starting from their own 21-yard line with 1:54 remaining in the half, the Panthers found themselves facing third and goal inside the 1-yard line with just seconds remaining.

The Panthers tried a rollout pass on third down that was nearly fumbled by Barnes, but ruled incomplete. On fourth down, Barnes took the quarterback sneak and tried to plow his way over the white line, but the officials ruled him down just inches from the goal line, and Central got it back with 3.1 seconds remaining.

Tigers’ quarterback Cooper Westbrook then threw one up in the air, trying to purposely throw it away and let the clock run out, but Cabot’s Jalen Hemphill intercepted the pass at the Central 35.

He returned it for a touchdown, but clipping was called on the return, negating the score. As a result, Central led 3-0 at the half.

“They played a good game,” Malham said of Central. “I thought we had a couple of things go against us, but that’s part of the game. You’re not always going to get the calls the way you see them. So you can’t complain about that.

“You’ve got to be able to overcome stuff like that. We had our opportunities in the second half, and they just beat us.”

Central found the end zone for the first time with 1:55 left in the third quarter after Cabot’s offense struggled to find any sort of momentum. The Tigers scored on a 17-yard pass from Westbrook to Tom Coulter, and the PAT made it 10-0 Central.

Cabot’s Christian Under-wood made it a one-possession game with 7:18 to play on a 31-yard field goal, which was the result of a Tiger turnover inside the Central 30-yard line.

Central, though, set the final score on the ensuing possession. After starting from its own 10-yard line, running back Richard Hayes put the game away on the 10th play of the drive with a 41-yard TD burst up the middle of the field, and the PAT by Wahls gave Central the 17-3 lead with three minutes remaining.

Cabot still outgained Central in total yardage. The Panthers finished with 295 yards of offense compared to the Tigers’ total of 273. Cabot had 197 yards of offense in the first half. Central had 157.

Panther fullback Kolton Eads led the Cabot backfield with 120 yards rushing on 28 carries. Hayes led Central’s backfield with 83 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Westbrook finished the night 15 of 26 passing for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Panthers will look to get back in the conference win column next week when they travel to winless Mountain Home at 7 p.m. next Friday night.