Saturday, November 01, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Fourth-down score dooms Panthers

Leader sportswriter

They came close, but the Cabot Panthers couldn’t pull off the upset against Jonesboro at Panther Stadium on Friday, as the visiting Golden Hurricane escaped the 7A/6A-East Conference matchup with a 24-23 win.

Thanks to three field goals by Christian Underwood, Cabot led 17-14 at halftime and 23-17 early in the fourth quarter, but a Jonesboro touchdown on fourth down with just over five minutes to play ended up being enough for the Golden Hurricane to get the win and secure the No. 1 playoff spot from the 6A-East.

“The defense played well,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “The offense missed some opportunities. We had a couple of scoring opportunities early in the third quarter that came back to haunt us, and they (Jonesboro) stayed in the game. They’re a good football team.

“Their two losses were against North Little Rock and Conway, two teams that beat us. So we knew it was going to be a dogfight.”

Jonesboro (7-2, 5-1) was the first to score, and it happened on the Canes’ second offensive series. On that drive, Jonesboro started at its own 20-yard line, and marched 80 yards down the field in 12 plays, scoring on a 28-yard pass from senior quarterback Carson Coats to senior receiver Lamar Haynes.

The PAT was good, giving Jonesboro a 7-0 lead with 5:17 left in the opening quarter. Cabot (5-4, 3-3), though, answered with a touchdown of its own. The Panthers started at their own 38, and scored after the nine-play drive was capped with a 5-yard run up the middle by junior fullback Kolton Eads.

Underwood’s PAT knotted up the score at seven apiece with 1:35 left in the first quarter. Jonesboro turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession, but Cabot gave it right back on the very next snap, and Jonesboro took advantage.

The Panther turnover set the Canes up at the Cabot 40, and on the third play of the drive, Coats connected with junior receiver Ke’dren Brunson up the middle of the field for a 24-yard touchdown strike. The PAT was good, giving the visitors a 14-7 advantage with 10:59 to play in the opening half.

Cabot answered with a three-play scoring drive of its own. After carries by Eads and Jalen Hemphill gained minimal yards, sophomore Jarrod Barnes, who played with a cast on his right hand because of a broken thumb he suffered in week seven, picked up a bouncing lateral pass and dashed 69 yards down the Jonesboro sideline for another Cabot touchdown.

Underwood’s PAT tied it up at 14-14 with 9:25 remaining in the half. Underwood set the halftime margin with three seconds remaining in the half after he drilled the first of his three field goals, this one from 20 yards out.

Cabot had a chance to get on the board again on the first possession of the second half, but failed to convert on fourth and 2 inside the Jonesboro 5-yard line, which gave the ball back to the Canes on downs.

“We probably should’ve kicked another field goal down there instead of going for it when we were up three (points) at the time. I thought we had something that would work and it didn’t, and they (Jonesboro) stayed in the game.”

Jonesboro tied the score at 17-17 with a 40-yard field goal that lined through the uprights with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter. Underwood, though, answered with a 26-yard field goal on the Panthers’ ensuing drive, which gave Cabot a 20-17 lead.

Jonesboro went three-and-out on its next possession, and Cabot put together a six-play drive that ended with Underwood’s third field goal, this one from 30 yards away with 8:54 to play.

That gave the Panthers a 23-17 lead, but Jonesboro answered on its next offensive series. After starting from their own 32-yard line, the Canes put together a 13-play drive that was capped with a 16-yard, play-action touchdown pass on fourth and 2, and the PAT set the final score.

Cabot responded with what looked to be another promising drive. The Panthers started on their own 25, and moved the ball into Jonesboro territory before a motion penalty pushed the Panther offense back 5 yards on first down.

On the next snap, quarterback Jess Reed, who took over QB duties for the first time last week, stepping in for the injured Barnes, went left on an option play when everyone else went right, and as a result, no one was there for the pitch, except a pair of Jonesboro defenders.

After the turnover, Jonesboro picked up a first down after Cabot spent its final timeout, and ran out the clock.

“Jess, he practices hard and competes hard, and I don’t know, he just went the wrong way,” Malham said. “Those things happen – nothing you can do about it now, but I was proud of the way we played.

“We’re young still, and I think we got a chance, if we keep improving, maybe when we hit the playoffs in a couple of weeks we’ll have a chance to compete there.”

Despite coming out on the losing end, Cabot outgained Jonesboro in offensive yardage. The Panthers finished with 351 yards, while the Golden Hurricane finished with 281.

Barnes led the rushing attack with 115 yards and one touchdown on just seven carries. Eads had 26 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown, and Hemphill had eight carries for 71 yards. Reed finished the night 2 for 5 passing for 66 yards. Both completions went to senior tight end Brett Frazier.

Coats finished the game 16 of 27 passing for 174 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also had eight carries for 46 yards.

The Panthers will look to rebound next Thursday against Searcy at home in the final regular-season game of 2014. That conference game will kickoff at 7 p.m.