Saturday, September 05, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Big plays lift Cabot over rival

By RAY BENTONLeader sports editor

In years past, Cabot hasn’t had the spectacular athletes as some other teams, and has had to rely on discipline, conditioning and precision execution to play among the elite high school football teams in the state. On Friday, the Panthers’ execution wasn’t spotless, but athleticism saved the day as the Panthers beat rival Conway 34-18 in the season opener at Panther Stadium.

Cabot blocked two field goals and two extra points, returned one blocked field goal 70 yards for a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, had a one-play, 40-yard drive, converted a nearly impossible fourth down, and had a 29-yard gain on third and 17 after a snap snafu lost 15 yards before the play ever started moving forward.

“Well it was the first game and we made a lot of mistakes, but the kids persevered and pulled it out,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “That score could’ve been a lot different. We blocked two field goals so that’s six points. We scored twice on defense that’s 12 or 14 more. If we don’t get those it could’ve been a whole different game.”

The Panther defense teetered back and forth between unstoppable and getting shredded through the air. Conway finished the game with 406 total yards to Cabot’s 389. Wampus Cat quarterback Breylin Smith finished the game 17 of 31 for 300 yards and two touchdowns, but was 14 of 20 for 230 in the first half.

Despite the big yardage, Cabot’s defense came up big in the red zone.

Conway receiver Marquis Pleasant picked up 50 yards on the first play of the game when a Cabot defender missed a tackle on a swing pass. But the Wampus Cats got little else. On third and 1 at the Cabot 2-yard line, sophomore nose guard Dayonte Roberts dropped Conway tailback Shamar Harper for a 4-yard loss. Former Cabot kicker Christian Underwood’s return to Panther Stadium was a nightmare. His 23-yard field-goal attempt was the first of four to be blocked. This one by Connor Daigle and covered by Chris Jones at the Cabot 24.

The Panthers went 42 yards in six plays, but halfback Jess Reed wasn’t looking for an option pitch on first down at the Conway 34. The ball bounced off his hip and was covered by the Wampus Cats at the 39.

Pleasant made a 41-yard reception on the first play of the next drive, but again Conway went nowhere from there. Underwood’s 31-yard field-goal attempt was also blocked by Daigle. This time defensive end Kolton Eads picked it up and outran everyone 70 yards to the end zone, giving Cabot a 7-0 lead with 6:59 left in the first quarter.

“Well it was funny because yesterday in practice, they moved me to contain side and put a faster guy on the other side to rush it,” said Eads. “He was supposed to block it and I was supposed to be there to pick it up and run it. It’s funny that it worked out just like that in the game.”

Cabot left a lot of points on the field in the first half. The Panthers lost two fumbles during strong drives, and had a 43-yard touchdown run by Austin Morse called back for holding.

But the Cabot offense’s first scoring drive embodied what Cabot football has been about for the past 35 years. The Panthers chewed up nearly the entire second quarter, taking possession with 11:47 left in the half and scoring 17 plays and 79 yards later with 3:49 remaining.

The drive included a pair of fourth-down conversions. One was a fake punt to Alex Roberts at midfield. The other came at the Conway 20-yard line when Eads took a fourth and 1 handoff, got stuffed at the line of scrimmage, but bulled his way forward for a 3-yard gain. Sophomore halfback Adam Flores took an option pitch 11 yards to set up first and goal at the 6, and Eads did the rest with a pair of 3-yard runs to put the Panthers up 14-0.

Though the drive took most of the quarter, it didn’t take enough of it. The otherwise struggling Conway offense suddenly came alive, gashing the Panthers for 70 yards through the air on a 74-yard drive and scoring with 1:21 remaining. But for the third time in three kicks, Cabot blocked Underwood to keep the score 14-6 going into halftime.

The Panthers got it to start the second half, and put together another good drive. It almost stopped inside the 20, where Cabot faced fourth and 3 at the Conway 18. Sophomore halfback Adam Flores took a pitch left and had nowhere to go. He broke two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, spun, broke another tackle and ran 17 yards to the Conway 1-yard line.

“That one run he had was unbelievable,” Malham said. “He bailed us out with that one. I don’t know how he did it.”

Flores finished as the game’s leading rusher, carrying 17 times for 147 yards. Conway was pinching the middle to stop the off-tackle and dive, and was keying heavily on quarterback Jarrod Barnes on the option. That opened things up for the halfback on the pitch, and Flores made the most of the opportunities.

“The offensive linemen did a great job of giving me room the run,” said Flores. “The other halfbacks, Jess Reed, Braxton Burton and Austin Morse, they did a great job of making the read blocks. Without them and the offensive line playing so well, I couldn’t have done it, so I thank them.”

Eads got his third touchdown with a 1-yard plunge on the next play, but the extra point was blocked, leaving the score 20-6 with 6:54 left in the third quarter.

Cabot’s defense dominated the third period. Conway went three and out on all three possessions of the third quarter, and totaled -4 yards. Drew Stout and Trenton Erickson each pressured Smith into bad throws, and Eads got his second sack for an 8-yard loss on Conway’s final play of the quarter.

In the meantime, Barnes scampered 40 for a score on the one-play drive between Conway’s second and third possession. The extra point by Caleb Schulte made it 27-6 with 1:58 left in the third.

On Conway’s fourth drive, a pass interference call moved the ball into Cabot territory at the 49. Smith then hit Damontay Allen for 17 yards before tailback Dartanian Thompson blasted through several tacklers for a 34-yard touchdown run with 9:20 left in the game. Cabot blocked Underwood’s fourth kick to leave it 27-12.

Cabot then drove 12 plays to the Conway 13, but Schulte’s 30-yard attempt was blocked with 2:50 left in the game.

Conway needed just four plays to go 80 yards for another touchdown with 1:49 remaining. The two-point conversion failed when Cabot again put pressure on Smith.

Conway covered the ensuing onside kick, but was called for offsides. On the next attempt, senior Holdyn Barnes caught the onside kick, squirted through two defenders and ran 50 yards for the final score of the game.

Jarrod Barnes finished with eight carries for 107 yards, a touchdown and three fumbles.

Pleasant had eight receptions for 171 yards, all in the first half. Thompson finished with 11 carries for 102 yards and a score for Conway.

Dayonte Roberts had two sacks and a tackle for loss totaling -27 yards. Linebacker Easton Siedl also had two tackles for -14 yards.

The Panthers hit the road to take on Catholic High next Friday in Little Rock. The Rockets beat North Little Rock 32-25 in overtime on Friday, spoiling the Charging Wildcats’ inaugural game in the new Wildcat Stadium.