Saturday, September 24, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers pull away in fourth

Leader sports editor

The Catholic Rockets came with an obvious defensive game plan, and it took Cabot just a little while to figure it out. Once it did, it took control and rolled to a 35-10 victory in the 7A-Central Conference opener Friday at Panther Stadium.

“Well, we didn’t know what they were going to line up in defensively,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “So it took us a while to adjust on the fly. Once we got things going we did alright.”

Catholic was determined to stop Cabot quarterback Jarrod Barnes, and they did it aggressively and did it well for two and a half quarters. The Panther defense did its job to keep the Rockets out of the end zone in the first half, and Cabot’s halfbacks picked up the slack left by the Rockets taking Barnes out of the offense.

“Both halfbacks played well and the defense did a good job for us until we could get things figured out,” Malham said. “And of course, Jarrod, he made some runs in the second half and that’s a big advantage to have.”

Through three quarters, Barnes had five carries for -5 yards, as well as an errant pitch that lost 17 yards. But in the fourth quarter, he had five more carries, including touchdown runs of 41 and 56 yards as the Panthers pulled away.

“Sometimes he tries to do a little too much,” Malham said of Barnes. “I try to tell him, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with no gain. It’s better than losing 15 or 20 yards. But he believes in himself and he always thinks he can make it happen. And usually he makes something good happen so you take the good with the bad.”

Catholic got on the board first with a 30-yard field goal that capped a 13-play drive with 6:44 left in the first quarter.

Cabot also scored on its first possession after starting from its own 20. Junior halfback Adam Flores starred in the drive. He caught a 13-yard pass on third and 10 after a false start penalty. Later on third and 3, Flores took an option pitch right down the right sideline 49 yards for the score.

Mason Martin’s extra point made it 7-3 with 3:01 to go in the first.

After being pushed down the field on the opening drive, Cabot’s defense turned the tide for the rest of the half. The Rockets lost a yard on its next drive before safety Evan Hooper intercepted a Taylor Price pass at midfield and returned to the Catholic 31.

The Panthers wasted the opportunity.

Barnes made an ill-advised pitch as he was being tackled, and the ball sailed over halfback Austin Morse’s head. Morse chased it down, but the play resulted in a 17-yard loss.

An illegal procedure penalty moved Cabot back 5 more yards, and Barnes was dropped for a 5-yard loss on second down. An incomplete pass left Cabot with fourth and 37 from its own 42.

The two teams traded fruitless drives with Cabot’s defense forcing back-to-back three-and-out possessions by Catholic.

With 4:09 left in the half, Cabot took over on its own 7-yard line and went 93 yards for a 14-3 lead. Flores got a first down with a 12-yard run, and Morse then went 71 yards to the Catholic 7 to set up first and goal.

Two Braxton Burton runs and a Martin extra point later and Cabot led by 11 with 2:08 on the clock.

Catholic got a good drive going in its hurry-up offense, moving swiftly from its own 33 to the Cabot 14. That’s where linebacker Cody Nabors halted the drive with an interception at the 8-yard line with 44 seconds left in the half.

Cabot tried one long pass that was dropped at midfield before taking a knee to run out the clock.

Cabot got the ball to start the second half, but things didn’t go as planned. The Panthers went three and out, and Catholic scored on its first play from scrimmage, a 52-yard run right up the middle by Samy Johnson. The extra point made it 14-10 less than two minutes into the third quarter.

“That was not how we wanted the second half to start,” Malham said. “Thankfully we got a good drive right after that and I think we started wearing them down a little bit at that point.”

Panther defensive lineman Chris Jones covered a fumble on Catholic’s next drive, giving the home offense the ball at its own 40.

Morse went 13 yards on second down before Barnes made the play of the game. A run play designed for Barnes out of the shotgun saw the Razorback verbal commit run up his own lineman’s back about 20 yards downfield. Appearing hemmed in by the sideline, Barnes ran backwards a few yards, and then straight forwards again, dodging tacklers the whole way for a 41-yard touchdown run with 11:13 left in the game.

Spencer Nickell got Cabot’s first sack of the game on the ensuing drive. Nickell dragged Price to the ground with one arm while being blocked to the ground by a Rocket lineman. The play went for a loss of 22 yards, forcing Catholic to punt.

Cabot started its drive at its own 34, and needed eight plays to score.

Burton had a 44-yard run that was reduced to 22 because of a holding penalty. Barnes later went 26 yards to the 3 before Burton did the rest, making it 28-10 with 5:33 to go.

Nickell got another sack on Catholic’s first play of the ensuing drive, this one for a 7-yard loss. A 2-yard run by Johnson and an incomplete pass forced Catholic to punt again.

Cabot took over on its own 44, and Barnes went 56 yards to the left side for the final score of the game. Martin’s extra point set the final margin with 3:41 to go.

Cabot finished with 437 yards of offense while holding Catholic to 287.

Barnes finished with 10 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He had five carries for 132 yards in the fourth quarter. Morse had seven carries for 102 yards. Flores had six carries for 76 yards and a 13-yard reception.

Johnson finished with 25 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown for Catholic.

Price was held to 10 of 21 passing for 96 yards by the Cabot defense.

The Panthers (4-0, 1-0) will travel to Fort Smith to take on the Southside Mavericks next Friday. Southside, also 1-0 in conference, ran its overall record to 2-2 on Friday with a 23-20 win over Conway.