Saturday, October 01, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot survives Southside

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers did everything coach Mike Malham said they couldn’t do if they wanted to avenge last year’s sloppy playoff loss to Fort Smith Southside, but they won anyway.

The Panthers kept their perfect record intact by beating the Mavericks 27-23 with three goal line stances on the final plays of the game in Fort Smith.

The Panthers fumbled five times. They lost three of them, including two inside their own 10-yard line, and committed 12 penalties for 115 yards. But none of that mattered when, on the second fourth down just inches from the goal line, Southside running back Taye Gatewood dropped a pitch for a loss on the game’s final play.

Cabot thought it had the game won the play before, but confused officials couldn’t decide what happened. On fourth and goal just two inches from the goal line, Cabot defensive lineman Chris Jones broke through the line and stopped running back Gatewood short of the goal line. While Cabot was celebrating, a second official ruled Gatewood had crossed the goal line, and Southside thought it had won the game.

Then the officials conferred, and a third official ruled that Cabot was lined up off sides, nullifying the play altogether, and giving the Mavericks another chance, this time from one inch away from the goal line.

That’s when the sophomore Gatewood fumbled the pitch, giving Cabot the victory.

Southside’s final drive started on its own 19, but moved all the way to the Cabot 36 without gaining a single yard of offense. A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 34. Before the next snap, Cabot was called for its second sideline infraction, which is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and another 15 yards for Southside to the 49.

The Panthers thought it had stopped the drive when Southside quarterback Graves Schmedly overthrew his receiver on fourth and 10, but another pass interference was called on Cabot, moving the ball to the Panther 36.

Linebacker Cody Nabors was called for the penalty, though his hit on receiver David Matthews was well after the ball had sailed over Matthews’ head and out of bounds.

Southside receiver Dylan Wyatt made an 11-yard catch on third and 8 for first down at the 23. Schmedly then hit Matthews for a 16-yard gain on third and 10 to set up first and goal at the 7-yard line.

Gatewood picked up 5 yards on first down and 1 more on second down, setting up third and goal at the 1.

Schmedly kept and was stopped two inches from the goal line, setting up the dramatic and confusing ending.

Early in the game, the Panthers looked like they were going to dominate. A quick Southside turnover set Cabot up in the red zone, but the Panthers would later return the favor twofold.

Cabot safety Evan Hooper picked off a Southside pass on the third play of the game and returned it 25 yards to the Maverick 15.

Barnes went 7 yards on first down. On second down, he dropped the ball for the first time, but this one resulted in an 8-yard touchdown, as Barnes dodged two tacklers after retrieving the ball and scored.

Mason Martin’s extra point made it 7-0 just 92 seconds into the game.

The Cabot defense gave up one first down on a pass interference penalty. Connor Daigle made his first tackle of the season after missing the first four games. It went for a loss and Southside was forced to punt.

Cabot took over on its own 25. Seven plays into the drive, Cabot faced fourth and 4 at its own 45. That’s when fullback Braxton Burton burst up the middle for 55 yards and another score with 4:20 to go in the first quarter.

Martin’s PAT was wide, leaving the score 13-0.

Cabot’s defense held again, and another punt gave the offense the ball on its own 6. That’s when things began to go awry for the Panthers.

On third and 5 from the 11, Barnes dropped the shotgun snap and Southside covered it at the Panther 2-yard line.

One play later, Gatewood plunged it in to make it 13-7 with 51 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Cabot started the ensuing drive on its own 20, and Barnes fumbled again on the second play, resulting in the Mavericks starting on the Cabot 7-yard line.

Two plays gained just 3 yards, but the home team got a little luck on third and goal. Jones knocked the ball into the air, but it came down in the hands of Maverick receiver David Matthews.

Southside also missed an extra point, leaving the score tied with 10:32 left in the half.

Cabot then drove from its own 20 to the Southside 15, but a holding penalty moved it back 12 yards, and the Panthers ended up missing a 32-yard field-goal attempt.

The defense held when Easton Seidl, who had moved from linebacker to down linemen, got his second sack of the half on third and 5.

Cabot again started on its 20, and again drove deep into Southside territory. And once again started going backwards once it got to the red zone. An 18-yard touchdown run by John Wiens was called back for holding, and Barnes was sacked twice, the last giving the ball over on downs at the Southside 36.

Cabot went 80 yards in six plays to start the second half. Collin Thames had broke free and was all alone down the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown reception four minutes into the third quarter.

The two teams traded possessions. Cabot stopped Southside on fourth and 10 at the Panther 31. Cabot then gained just 6 yards before punting. Eric Larsen drilled a huge punt that put Southside on its own 22, but an illegal block on Cabot forced them to do it again. This time the kick was short and the return was long, and the Mavericks started at the Cabot 33.

It took seven plays for them to score and tie the game at 20-20 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers got two first downs to the Southside 42, but two sacks and an incomplete pass forced the Panthers to punt again. The Mavericks finished the ensuing drive with the go-ahead field goal.

Cabot’s game-winning drive started with another pass from Barnes to Thames, this one for 47 yards to the Southside 33. Austin Morse went 10 yards on the next play, and Barnes went 10 more two plays later to the 11.

After Adam Flores went 3 yards, Barnes kept to the right for an 8-yard touchdown run that put Cabot up for good.

Hooper got his second interception on the third play of the next drive, but Barnes and Morse fumbled the handoff exchange on the very next play to set up Southside’s final drive.

Southside put a stop the Barnes’ dominance on the ground, but he threw for a career high 233 yards by completing 7 of 10 pass attempts. Wiens caught three of those passes for 109 yards, while Thames caught two for 92.

Cabot out gained Southside by a wide margin, racking up 383 total yards to just 182 for the Mavericks.

Cabot (5-0, 2-0) is back home next week to take on Conway, while Southside (2-3, 0-2) will travel to North Little Rock.