Saturday, November 11, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers send Bulldogs packing

Leader sports editor

The Cabot defense went from unable to stop Springdale in the first half, to completely shutting down the Bulldogs in the second half, leading the way to a 43-21 Cabot victory in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs Friday at Panther Stadium.

The Bulldogs racked up 344 total yards in the first half and took a 21-20 lead into the locker room at halftime. They managed just 16 total yards in the second half as the Panther defense flipped a switch and dominated.

“We didn’t really change a whole lot,” said Cabot defensive coordinator Randall Black. “We just went back to our base defense, really. The kids just played hard. They played hard the whole game. We tried a couple things in the first half and we weren’t getting there. We just went back to the base defense and the kids made plays.”

The Panthers took the lead for good on the first drive of the second half. Halfback T.J. Rogers went 31 yards on the first play of the half. Cabot went from its own 27 to the Springdale 20 in just four plays, but a holding penalty put it behind the chains. That set up a 35-yard field goal by Mason Martin that gave Cabot a 23-21 lead with 7:47 left in the third quarter.

The Cabot defense forced a three-and-out possession, and Rogers returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to the Bulldog 9-yard line. But the first of two personal foul penalties on fullback Bradley Morales, for knocking a defender down well after the play was over, caused Cabot to come away empty.

The defense made up for the offensive mental lapse on the very next play. Linebacker Lucas Crumbly picked off a Layne Hutchins pass and returned it 40 yards for the score with five minutes left in the third quarter.

Springdale gambled on fourth and 1 on its next possession, opting to go for it and opting to throw. Hutchins had lots of time to find a receiver, but the secondary kept everyone covered until sophomore Hayden Matthews could get to Hutchins for a sack that gave Cabot the ball at the Springdale 33.

The Panthers (7-4) got to the 11 before more penalties backed them up and forced another field goal attempt. This time the snap was high and Springdale took over at the 17.

But again, Cabot’s defense forced three and out. Another good return set Cabot up again in Springdale territory at the 34. This time the offense didn’t squander the opportunity, even though it tried. T

hird and 8 turned into third and 13 after an illegal procedure penalty. While the referee was announcing the call, Morales was flagged for his second personal foul penalty, backing the Panthers up another 15 yards and setting up third and 28 from the Cabot 48-yard line.

Halfback Graham Turner plowed forward for 20 yards on third down.

Rogers got another 23 on fourth and 8 to set up first and goal at the 10. Five-yard runs by Turner and Morales finished the drive and Martin’s extra point made it 36-21 with 7:02 left in the game.

Springdale (6-5) picked up just 1 yard on its next possession before Jessie Windemaker got an interception and returned it 54 yards to the Springdale 1-yard line. Quarterback Cody Skinner, playing for injured Tommy Oaks, kept for the score on the next play to set the final margin.

“It’s a good win,” said Cabot head coach Mike Malham. “It gives us a winning season. Now we go up and get a shot at Bentonville. We’re going to have to play cleaner than we did tonight. We made some mistakes, but we overcame them.”

The Cabot Panthers scored the first two times they snapped the ball, but finished the first half with three turnovers and trailing by one point.

Neither defense had any answers in the first half. Springdale took the opening kickoff and cruised down the field, going 70 yards in 11 plays and twice converting on third and long.

Cabot answered with back-to-back one-play drives. Rogers went 75 yards on Cabot’s first play of the game. Noah Sorrell then went 68 yards on the second play after a Cabot defensive stop.

But Oaks got hurt, and Cabot’s last four possessions of the first half included three turnovers and one touchdown with a missed extra point.

Cabot had 480 total yards to Springdale’s 360. The Panthers were a bit more balanced, picking up 299 in the first half and 181 in the second.

Rogers finished with 14 carries for 213 yards, as well as two punt returns totaling 71 yards. He added one reception for 10 yards.

The Panthers will travel to Bentonville High next Friday to take on the 7A-West champions. It’s the first meeting between the two teams since the 2013 state championship game.