Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers battle Tigers, injuries

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers continue to find ways to overcome the mistakes that don’t seem to be clearing up as the season progresses. The Panthers were on the verge of a blowout win last Friday at West Memphis. Fullback Alex Roberts broke a 76-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half to give the Panthers a 28-7 lead. But their next two drives were thwarted by penalties that negated first downs, and the Blue Devils scored each subsequent drive to make it 28-21.

The two teams traded touchdowns again before Cabot closed the game out with two touchdowns to set the final margin at 49-28.

Cabot lost a fumble on its first possession of the game, and was called for 11 penalties totaling 90 yards. Even with the turnover and several drive-stopping penalties, the Panthers still gained more than 500 yards rushing, and nearly 600 total yards. They completed four passes, which tripled the season total to six, and is just one win away from locking up a one seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs through the quarterfinals.

“There are definitely some things I wish we would do better,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “But it’s hard to complain about 500 yards and 49 points. It’s nice having those big plays because you have a lot more opportunity to screw things up in one of those 15-play drives. We’ve managed to make the big plays and have some success.”

West Memphis quarterback Kylin Whiting did most of the damage to Cabot’s defense. He only completed 11 of 29 pass attempts, but his mobility kept drives alive. He ran for several first downs when called pass plays broke down.

“He was pretty good,” Malham said. “We couldn’t get him down when he’d take off. He hit one over the top on us on their first drive and they jumped ahead. And then he kept them in it getting away from the rush.”

Cabot hosts Little Rock Central this Friday for homecoming. It’s the last game of the season that has any bearing on the playoffs. A Cabot win means getting that one seed as a result of beating all the other 7A teams in the 7A/6A-East Conference.

The Panthers will have to do it with several banged up players. There are no major injuries, but the defensive line could have as many as three starters out for Friday’s game, as well as linebacker Cody Nabors.

“Depth is a problem for us,” Malham said. “We lose too many and we’ll be hurting, and too many isn’t very many at all. Right now nobody has any serious injuries, we just don’t know yet who’s going to be ready on Friday.”

Defensive end/fullback Kolton Eads missed last week’s game. His speed on the edge could have made a difference in containing Whiting. He remains questionable for Friday, as does Lino Garcia and nose guard Dayonte Roberts.

Eads’ absence did provide Alex Roberts with an opportunity to shine, and he did. He rushed 16 times for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Malham has been high on Roberts’ speed and quickness since he arrived as a transfer from Alaska over the summer, but he struggled early in the season.

“It’s just taken him a while to figure things out,” Malham said. “We do things a little different around here than most people. But he’s got some speed and some shiftiness to him, and he can be tough to bring down. He picked a good time to break out because we needed him with Kolton out.”

Central’s defense has been suspect at times this season. The Tigers are 2-4 with conference wins over Searcy, 24-14, and Mountain Home, 41-7. But they’ve given up an average of 39 points per game in their four losses.

“With everybody banged up on defense, hopefully we can keep scoring and keep everybody healthy,” Malham said. “If nobody else gets hurt, we’ll have everybody back in a couple of weeks anyway.”