Saturday, October 31, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers fight off collapse to ’Canes

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers got two non-offensive touchdowns and just enough defensive stops to win a wild game 62-53 over Jonesboro at Cooksey-Johns Stadium on Friday.

The Cabot Panthers only thought they had the game under control when the fourth quarter began. At that point, Cabot held a 55-31 lead over the Jonesboro Hurricanes, but five minutes into the quarter the home team had pulled to within 55-53.

Jonesboro conjured up nightmarish images of Pulaski Academy for the Cabot coaching staff when it scored three touchdowns without the Panthers touching the ball in the fourth quarter.

Cabot finally covered the third-consecutive onside kick attempt when it put all skill players on the field. The Panthers took possession at their own 46 with 7:02 remaining in the game, and gave the Hurricanes a heavy dose of fullback Kolton Eads. The senior two-way player took the ball 22 yards on the first play of the drive and 24 more on the last play, setting the final margin with 4:40 remaining.

Jonesboro got the ball one more time, starting on its own 30 and driving to the Cabot 39 where the Panther defense held. Jonesboro faced third and 1, and failed twice to get that yard, giving Cabot possession with 2:53 left.

Jonesboro was out of timeouts, and after one first down, the Panthers were in victory formation.

The teams didn’t begin lighting up the scoreboard right away. Cabot was forced to punt on the game’s opening drive, and held Jonesboro to a field goal with 7:00 minutes left in the first quarter.

The Panthers took over on their own 30 and went 70 yards in nine plays. The play of the drive was the first of three lucky bounces. A fumble by Jarrod Barnes bounced directly into the arms of Austin Morse, who took it 39 yards to the Jonesboro 10-yard line.

Three Eads runs later, the Panthers held a 7-3 lead with 3:09 remaining in the first quarter.

Hurricane quarterback A.J. Aycock converted 6 of 7 passes and finished with a 7-yard pass to Howie Sheeran for a 10-7 Jonesboro lead with 1:40 left in the quarter. That lead didn’t last long.

Cabot’s Holdyn Barnes took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards, untouched for the score and Caleb Shutle’s extra point gave Cabot a 14-10 lead.

Jonesboro punted on its next possession and Cabot made it 21-10 with a 10-play, 78-yard drive. Fullback Alex Roberts had a 27-yard gain on first and 5 that moved the ball to the Jonesboro 20, and capped the drive with a 3-yard run with 7:51 left in the half.

Jonesboro dropped a touchdown pass on fourth and 5 and Cabot took over on its own 21. This time it only took six plays; with quarterback Jarrod Barnes going 62 yards on a busted play when the shotgun snap rolled to him. That made it 28-10 with 2:07 left in the half, but Jonesboro went 54 yards in three plays to cut into that margin before halftime. Aycock hit Jonathan Adams from 17 yards out to make it 28-17 with a minute left in the half.

Controversy arose when Jonesboro scored on fourth down on the first drive of the second half. Cabot coach Mike Malham argued that Aycock was well across the line of scrimmage when he delivered a short pass to Kylon Tate that went 45 yards for the score. The play stood, and it was 28-24 just 30 seconds into the third.

Cabot answered in just four plays when Roberts took a handoff 49 yards for a touchdown. Holdyn Barnes then scooped up a Jonesboro fumble on the first play of the ensuing drive, and took it 20 yards for a 41-24 Cabot lead with 9:40 remaining in the third.

Cabot’s defense forced a punt, and the offense went 67 yards in seven plays. That last 18 on a read option by Jarrod Barnes that made it 48-24 with 4:52 left in the third.

Jonesboro answered right away. Tate took an inside handoff 80 yards straight up the middle to make it 48-31 with 4:39 on the clock.

Eads answered for Cabot when he capped a seven-play, 65-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown run on the last play of the third quarter for a 55-31 lead. Thus began the furious Jonesboro comeback.

Jonesboro outgained Cabot 540-512. Jarrod Barnes led Cabot with 12 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Eads had 17 carries for 132 yards and three scores. Roberts had 10 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns.