Wednesday, November 01, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers playing for pride this week

Leader sports editor

Thursday’s matchup at Panther Stadium between Cabot and North Little Rock will have no bearing on the Class 7A playoffs. No matter who wins or by how much, North Little Rock will be the No. 1 seed and Cabot will be the No. 4 from the Central Conference, but bragging rights will be on the line in a game that has developed into a heated rivalry.

Last year’s finale saw North Little Rock overcome an 18-point halftime deficit to win by one point.

The two teams also met in the playoffs last season, two weeks after NLR’s one-point win. That was a different story, as the Wildcats beat Cabot easily 49-19.

In 2015, Cabot drummed the Wildcats 34-3. All of those games took place at NLRHS. Thursday’s game will be the first one in Cabot since 2014.

“All I know is North Little Rock is really good,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “They’re on the fourth string running back and he had a whale of game against Bryant. They get one hurt, they just put another one in there that looks like he’s better than the last one. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Brandon Thomas was the sophomore running back that got the start last week in the battle between two of the state’s three undefeated teams. Bryant scored first and held the Wildcats scoreless for a quarter and a half. From the midway point of the second quarter, NLR (9-0, 6-0) outscored Bryant 28-7, despite losing the turnover battle 2-0.

Thomas had a 22-yard touchdown run and picked up 150 yards rushing in the win. Quarterback David Chapple threw three touchdown passes, including two to senior receiver Deontae Montgomery.

“There’s just athletes all over the field when you look at their film,” Malham said. “I don’t really worry about who they got starting and who’s out. They’re all good. All I worry about is what we’re going to look like.”

Cabot (5-4, 3-3) has shown some inconsistency this season. Three of its four losses have been by seven points or fewer. But there are two that Malham wishes his team had back.

In week 6, Cabot laid an egg in a 49-14 loss at Conway. In week 7, the Panthers handed Little Rock Central its only conference win of the season, 16-14.

“If you look at our three close losses, you can point to a drive where we stopped ourselves with penalties,” Malham said. “Of course at Central, we stopped ourselves with penalties and turnovers and everything you can think of. But we had the one touchdown called back that shouldn’t have been, and then we had the fumble at the goal line when nobody was around us.

“Conway was different because we didn’t even show up for that one.”

Cabot’s defense, other than in the Conway game, has been outstanding most of the season. It has gotten better since Division I prospect Dayonte Roberts rejoined the team for the Bryant game after a four-game suspension.

“Having him back has helped us,” Malham said. “I think the defense as a whole has played really well the last couple of weeks. The offense has been moving the ball. We just have to hang onto it and not get those penalties.

“We have to eliminate the turnovers and don’t give up the big play. If we complete as hard as we have the last couple weeks and do those two things, we’ll be in the ball game. If we play like we did against Conway, we won’t beat anybody.”