Saturday, November 12, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers roll past West in playoffs

Leader sports editor

BENTONVILLE – Cabot had 12 possessions, never punted and rolled up more than 500 yards of offense Thursday in a 62-34 victory over Bentonville West Thursday in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs.

The Panthers scored nine touchdowns, committed two turnovers and then ran the clock out on the last drive after the mercy rule was invoked late in the third quarter.

The Wolverines’ spread offense gave Cabot some trouble early, scoring on each of its first two possessions and taking a 14-7 lead with 5:30 still remaining in the first quarter. But the Panther defense woke up soon after, and began applying severe pressure on the BW quarterback Will Jarrett without any stunts or blitzes to help.

Once the Panther defense solved the Wolverine offense, Cabot began to pull away. The Panthers were in a good position to put the game away late in the second quarter, but a series of mistakes let the 3-8 Wolverines right back into the game.

The Panthers led 35-14 and got the ball back with 52 seconds left in the first half. A holding penalty negated a 30-yard run by Cabot quarterback Jarrod Barnes. On the very next play, Barnes overthrew his intended receiver and the ball was picked off.

On BW’s second play, Jarrett heaved the ball downfield while scrambling from Cabot’s pass rush. The ball should have been easily intercepted. Instead, two Cabot defenders collided as the ball careened high into the air and into the awaiting arms of Wolverine receiver Stefan Banda, who trotted 10 more yards into the end zone.

The extra point was no good, leaving the score 35-20 at halftime.

BW then surprised Cabot with an onside kick the return team never saw. Banda then caught a 30-yard pass that was ruled incomplete by the back judge on top of the play, but the head official overruled him after a long discussion.

Less than 90 seconds into the third quarter, Bentonville West scored again, and was within one score at 35-27.

“They got some players and they did some good things,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I thought we were about to finish them off and next thing you know they’re right back in it. But our offense played really good all night except for a couple mistakes, and our defense got going and got to playing a lot better than we started out.”

That briefly swung the crowd and momentum heavily to the home side, but it was short-lived. The Panthers scored 27 unanswered points over the next 9:28 to take a 35-point lead and invoke the running clock for the entire fourth quarter.

The Cabot rally started after Barnes covered another onside kick attempt and the Panthers started at the Wolverine 44. Three runs by fullback Easton Seidl was all it took to get that distance. He went for 13, 27 and 4 yards for his third touchdown of the game.

Cabot forced a three-and-out, and junior defensive lineman Dayonte Roberts blocked the punt to set the offense up at the BW 20-yard line.

Three plays later, Seidl barreled up the middle for 15 yards on third and 5 for another score and a 49-27 lead.

On the ensuing possession, senior defensive tackle Chris Jones tackled Jarrett for a 1-yard loss on a designed run play. On third and 11, Roberts sacked him for a 6-yard loss and forced another punt.

On Cabot’s first play, Barnes broke loose for the second time in the game, keeping around left end for a 59-yard touchdown run and a 56-27 lead with 5:12 still left in the third.

Roberts got another sack on the next play to put the Wolverines behind the chains. They threw incomplete, then complete for a loss of 3 yards and had to punt again.

This time Dylan Smith returned the punt 30 yards to the 33-yard line.

Barnes went 30 yards on the first play, but it was also called back for holding. It mattered little. The Panthers needed just six plays with Seidl going the last four with 1:04 left in the third quarter.

Mason Martin missed his only extra point in nine tries, but the earlier miss by BW made it irrelevant for the 35-point spread to start the mercy-rule clock.

Cabot finished with 534 yards off offense, including 498 on the ground. Barnes led the way with 13 carries for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Seidl had 16 carries for 113 yards and five scores. Cabot’s other touchdown was a 36-yard pass from Barnes to halfback Austin Morse in the second quarter.

Bentonville West finished with 321 yards off offense, 253 through the air and 68 on the ground.

The Panthers (7-4) will return to North Little Rock next Friday for its second round game. The undefeated, No. 1 ranked Charging Wildcats hosted the Panthers last week in the regular-season finale and escaped with a 28-27 win.

“We go back to North Little Rock next week,” Malham said. “We gave them a hell of a game last week and we hope we can play that well again.”