Saturday, September 10, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers survive gambles, fumbles

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers gambled a lot late, and it never paid off. But they got out of lower Arkansas with a victory anyway, beating 6A powerhouse El Dorado 28-13 in a game that was much closer than the score indicates.

Three lost fumbles cost Cabot three scoring opportunities over the course of the game, and two huge gambles late in the fourth quarter breathed new life into an El Dorado team that trailed 14-7 and had struggled all game to get any momentum.

El Dorado finally put together a nice drive late in the game until Austin Swackhammer’s second interception stopped the drive. Swackhammer picked off the 11-yard pass attempt at the goal line, setting Cabot up at the 20 with 4:30 left in the game.

But the Panthers failed to run much time off the clock. After a quick first down, quarterback Jarrod Barnes ran out of bounds on first down. Two plays later an incomplete pass stopped the clock again on fourth down.

Cabot lined up to punt, and rolled the dice for the first time. Halfback Austin Morse took the direct snap but was stopped 2 yards short of the first down. That set El Dorado up at the Cabot 47 with 2:37 left in the game.

The Panthers were called for pass interference on the first play of the drive, moving the ball to the 32.

Wildcat quarterback Darius Holly scrambled for 13 yards when he couldn’t find anyone open, making it first down at the Cabot 19. The next pass went for -3 yards, and that set up Cabot’s next huge gamble.

This time, the Panthers went with an all-out blitz, and Holly calmly hit Blake Cunningham for the score to pull the home team to within one point.

El Dorado coach Scott Reed decided himself to gamble, and went for two and the win instead of kicking the extra point to force overtime. The pass fell incomplete, leaving Cabot with the lead.

El Dorado had to try an on-side kick with 1:19 remaining, but Cabot’s John Wiens caught in amidst a gap in the Wildcat coverage, and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown with 1:09 left in the game.

Mason Martin’s extra point made it 21-13.

Cabot kicked deep and El Dorado took over on its own 28. After one incomplete pass, Jarrod Barnes, who was on the field on defense for the first time this season, picked off a pass at the Cabot 45 and ran it back 55 yards for the final score of the game.

Both offenses struggled most of the game. Penalties and turnovers thwarted several Cabot drives, while El Dorado couldn’t keep Cabot’s defense out of its backfield.

Spencer Nickell had three sacks for Cabot, while Cody Nabors had three tackles for loss.

Barnes had another big night running the ball. He finished with 17 carries for 210 yards and two touchdowns, but also had three fumbles, one of which was lost.

Both of Cabot’s second-half fumbles were hotly contested by Cabot coach Mike Malham, who felt fullback Braxton Burton and Barnes were both down before losing the ball.

Cabot held El Dorado to just 119 total yards.

The Panthers will stay on the road next week when it travels to Class 5A J.A. Fair. The War Eagles were beaten 60-0 by Morrilton on Friday, and have not won a game on the field since opening week of the 2013 season. They were awarded a forfeit victory over McClellan in 2014. Fair has won two games on the field since 2010, and have been winless on the field in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.