Saturday, November 18, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers ousted by Bentonville

Leader sports editor

BENTONVILLE – The final score is not a good indicator of how close the game was, but it was a season-ending loss nonetheless for the Cabot football team. The Panthers traveled to 7A-West champion Bentonville for the quarterfinals, and were down just 14-6 halfway through the third quarter, but ultimately fell 31-6.

As much as could go wrong for the Panthers did go wrong. They lost their starting quarterback on the first drive of the game. There were three fumbles. None were lost but all three lost big yardage and thwarted promising drives. There were also a lot of strange calls by the officials and some creative clock keeping that all benefited the home team.

Cabot coach Mike Malham didn’t say anything about the officiating, but he did lament the self-defeating mistakes.

“I thought the defense played outstanding in the first half,” said Malham. “We had a couple good drives going but seemed like every time we did we’d fumble the ball or get a penalty. We just can’t make those mistakes against good teams like this. We just gave them too many opportunities.”

Neither team scored in the first quarter. Cabot had the ball to start the second quarter and drove just across midfield before a fumble on third and 5 lost 4 yards and forced a Cabot punt.

The defense then held Bentonville (9-2) to three-and-out and the Panthers took over on the Tiger 46. Cabot went for it on fourth and 1 and quarterback Cody Skinner appeared to be very close to the first down, but the ball was spotted back at the 45-yard line for the measurement. After the official signaled first down for Bentonville, the ball was moved back to middle of the field and placed at the 44, which would have been enough for a Cabot first down.

Two plays later, Bentonville finally struck first when quarterback Lucas Bowman found receiver Kam’ron Mays-Hunt for a 53-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Tiger lead with 5:18 left in the first half.

Cabot’s next drive picked up 18 yards before a holding penalty turned a 10-yard first-down run by backup quarterback Cody Skinner into third and 15. On the next play, tight end Ayden Shurley let a pass slip right through his fingers, setting up fourth and long and forcing Cabot to punt again.

The punt pinned the Tigers at their own 3-yard line with 2:26 left in the half, but Bentonville would still score before halftime with the help of several strange incidences.

Nothing strange about the first play, when running back Preston Crawford took the draw handoff 19 yards and out of the shadow of the end zone. Two plays later came the first curious occurrence.

Bowman was forced to scramble when he found no one open and pressure was being applied by the Cabot defensive line. When Bowman took off, several Bentonville players appeared to simply grab the nearest Panther. Bowman gained a yard, but Cabot coaches were penalized for protesting the no-calls and 15 yards was added to the end of the run.

Crawford was tackled for a 6-yard loss on the next play, and the clock inexplicably stopped for several seconds. An incomplete pass set up third and 16, but Bowman picked up 26 yards right up the middle when escaped more pressure from the defensive line. That made it first down at the Cabot 26. After another incomplete pass, Bowman scrambled again, this time picking up just 4 yards, and the clock stopped again with 51 seconds left, though no first down was gained and Bowman was stopped in the middle of the field. The clock did not begin again until the ball was snapped. When it was snapped, Bentonville got away with a blatant pick play that took linebacker Lucas Crumbly out of coverage on a crossing patter, and receiver Harrison Campbell caught the ball with an empty field in front of him for a touchdown that put the Tigers up two scores at the half.

Bentonville got the ball to start the second half, but the Cabot defense stopped them without allowing a first down.

Cabot (6-6) took over on its own 46, and went that distance in eight plays.

The Panthers needed just one third-down conversion, and got it when T.J. Rogers picked up 7 yards on third and 6 to set up first and goal at the 3. Skinner kept right over the A gap for the score on the next play.

Mason Martin missed the extra point, but wasn’t helped by the official blowing his whistle just as the ball was being placed for the kick. The apparently inadvertent whistle wasn’t acknowledged and the score remained 14-6 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.

Bentonville’s next drive was almost all Bowman. Crawford picked up 21 yards on first down and Bowman did the rest. He kept on a quarterback draw for 46 yards. After a holding penalty, Bowman scored on the same play to complete a three-play, 80-yard drive that put the Tigers up 21-16 with 6:35 to go in the third.

Cabot again drove into Bentonville territory, but another fumble, this time an ill-advised pitch on the option, lost 6 yards and forced Cabot into a passing situation on third and 14. Rogers made a 2-yard catch, but a fourth-down pass was caught in the 30 mile-per-hour winds at Tiger Stadium and sailed high for the turnover on downs at the Bentonville 42.

The Tigers hit a 35-yard field goal on their next drive to go up 24-6 with 10:37 left.

Cabot then drove from its own 20 to first and goal at the 3, but could not get it in the end zone in four tries.

Bentonville took over inside its own 1-yard line, and on the fourth play, the quarterback draw struck again. This time Bowman went 83 yards for the score that set the final margin.

Bentonville moves on to host Bryant in the semifinals next week. The Hornets overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit to beat Fayetteville 21-20.