Monday, November 10, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Big third gives Cabot win

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers will enter the 7A playoffs next week on a winning streak after handing 7A/6A-East opponent Searcy a 49-36 defeat Thursday night at Panther Stadium.

Bragging rights were all that was on the line in Thursday’s game, as both teams had already secured playoff berths entering the regular-season finale, but Cabot coach Mike Malham made it clear earlier in the week that his team needed a win to gain some confidence heading into next week’s playoffs.

“It was a good win,” said Malham. “Getting six wins gives us a winning season. It’s not bad – could’ve been better, but with as much youth as we’re playing right now, particularly on defense with five or six sophomores playing on defense, it’s not bad.”

The two teams went into halftime tied at 22-22, but the host Panthers (6-4, 4-3) outscored the visiting Lions (4-6, 3-4), who will host a playoff game next week, 27-14 in the second half to secure the victory.

Cabot got the ball at the start of the second half, and the Panther offense scored in four plays. Senior halfback Jason Schrunk ran for 11 yards on the third play of the drive, and scored on a 45-yard run the next snap after plowing over a Searcy defender in the secondary.

The PAT was no good, but Cabot still led 28-22 with 10:22 remaining in the third quarter. Searcy fumbled the ensuing kickoff and linebacker Easton Seidl covered the ball at the Lions’ 42, and the Cabot offense took advantage.

A couple of first down runs by Jarrod Barnes helped set up the 25-yard touchdown run by Jalen Hemphill on the fifth play of the drive. Fullback Kolton Eads punched in the two-point conversion, giving the Panthers a 36-22 cushion with 8:05 left in the third quarter.

After consecutive three-and-outs by the Searcy offense, Eads scored on the first play of the Panthers’ next possession, which came on a 56-yard run with 2:42 left in the third. Christian Underwood’s extra point put the Panthers up 43-22.

Searcy quarterback Andrew Neaville, who absolutely shredded the Panther defense in the first half, was intercepted on the first play of the following possession by Cabot’s Dylan Smith, which gave the ball back to the Panther offense at the Lions’ 9-yard line.

Hemphill scored from that distance on the next snap, giving the host team a commanding 49-22 lead with 2:17 left in the third. Searcy answered with consecutive touchdown drives, which set the final score.

The first came on a 5-yard run up the middle by running back Monte Gentry with 11:09 left in the fourth quarter, which capped an eight-play drive. Gentry also converted the two-point try on a short pass from Neaville.

Searcy covered the onside kick that followed, and on the third play of the Lions’ ensuing possession, Gentry lined up at quarterback in the Lions’ Wildcat package, and Gentry threw a 33-yard TD pass to receiver Wallace Robinson, who made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch with 10:04 to play, which cut the Panther lead to 49-36.

At the start of the game, Searcy actually held a 13-0 lead before Cabot’s offense even took the field. The Lions received the opening kickoff, and scored on a 22-yard TD pass from Neaville to receiver Rivers Ridout with 7:45 remaining in the opening quarter, which capped the nine-play opening drive.

The PAT was no good, giving Searcy a 6-0 lead. Cabot turned the ball back over to the Lions after fumbling the ensuing kickoff at its own 27, and Searcy found the end zone again in just two plays.

On the scoring play, Neaville connected with Ridout from 19 yards out, and the PAT gave the Lions a 13-0 advantage with 7:01 left in the first quarter. Cabot’s offense scored on its first possession, though, to make it a one-possession game.

On that scoring possession, the Panthers ended the eight-play drive with a 28-yard run by Barnes with 3:18 remaining in the first quarter, and Underwood’s PAT made it a 13-7 game.

Cabot took its first lead on its next offensive possession. After starting from their own 8-yard line, the Panthers marched the ball down field and scored on an 18-yard run by Barnes with 8:13 remaining in the opening half, and Underwood’s PAT gave the Panthers the lead at 14-13.

Searcy retook the lead with a lengthy scoring drive of its own. The Lions started at their own 20, and scored in 11 plays. The TD score came on a screen pass from Neaville to junior running back Luke Dixon with 3:48 left in the half. The PAT was blocked by Cabot’s Connor Daigle, making the score 19-14 Searcy.

Cabot got great field positioning on its final scoring drive of the first half, thanks to an interception by senior cornerback Logan Melder that he returned to the Searcy 39-yard line.

From there, Cabot’s offense scored in five plays, and the TD came from 1 yard out on a run by Hemphill with 32 seconds left in the half. Hemphill also punched in the two-point try to put the Panthers on top 22-19.

Searcy took the following kickoff to the Cabot 47, and a 23-yard pass from Neaville to Robinson helped set up Chris Qualls’ game-tying field goal from 26 yards away, setting the halftime margin at 22-22.

“They came to play,” Malham said of Searcy. “They did a great job. We were down 13 before we came back and took it. That first half was a great game to watch. The third quarter we came out and did our job, and that’s where we actually won the ball game was in the third quarter.

“We’re just pleased to get the win, and hopefully we can go somewhere next week and play a good ball game and maybe surprise somebody.”

Cabot finished the game with 476 yards of offense, all of which came on the ground. Searcy finished with 385 yards of offense.

Eads led Cabot with 16 carries for 154 yards and one TD. Barnes also eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark with 10 carries for 109 yards and two TDs. Hemphill had eight carries for 50 yards and three TDs. Schrunk had six carries for 68 yards and one TD, and quarterback Jess Reed had eight carries for 66 yards.

Neaville completed 17 of 19 passes in the first half for 211 yards and three TDs with one interception, but completed just 5 of 10 passes for 16 yards and an interception in the second half. Robinson led the Lions’ receiving corps with 10 catches for 129 yards and one TD.

Cabot will travel to one of the northwest schools for the first round of the Class 7A playoffs next Friday. As of last night, the Panthers’ opponent had yet to be determined, but kickoff for next week’s playoff opener will be at 7 p.m.