Saturday, November 30, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Surge lifts Bison to semifinals

Leader sportswriter

Carlisle trailed Rison by 11 points at halftime of Friday’s quarterfinal round of the class 2A state football playoffs at Fred C. Hardke Field, but the Bison outscored the Wildcats 22-0 in the second half to win 30-19, and advance to next week’s semifinal round where they’ll face defending state champion Junction City.

The Bison defense struggled to contain the Wildcats’ power run game in the first half as Rison led19-8 at halftime. Carlisle (12-1) committed three turnovers in the first two quarters played, and the Wildcats (9-4) had zero.

That statistic was reversed in the second half, as the Bison defense forced three Wildcat turnovers while the offense scored on all but one possession. That one scoreless possession came in the game’s final seconds and ended with two kneel downs by Bison quarterback Chase Brazeal.

“We may have brought a little more pressure, but it was just our kids figuring out that they’re going to come off the ball,” said Carlisle coach Brandon Barbaree of his team’s halftime adjustments. “Rison’s a good football team. They fire off the ball and hit you in the mouth.

“We adjusted to the speed of the game, and finally figured out that we needed to play just one play at a time, and our kids did that. We didn’t make mistakes in the second half, and we were able to pull it out.”

Rison got the ball to start the second half, but Carlisle’s defense forced a three and out, and the offense responded with a 14-play drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by senior standout running back DeRon Ricks.

The two-point conversion attempt was no good, but Ricks’ score cut the Wildcats’ lead to 19-14 with 2:52 to play in the third quarter. Rison’s offense was again held without a first down on its next offensive series, but on fourth and 3 from its own 43, the Wildcats tried to convert a fake punt.

Zuntario Oliver picked up 2 yards on the run, but was stopped a yard shy of the first down, which gave the ball back to Carlisle at the Rison 45-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Ricks broke through the Wildcat defense for a 34-yard run.

Three plays later, Ricks scored his second touchdown of the half on an 8-yard run with 11:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fellow senior and standout running back Bo Weddle punched in the two-point try, which put Carlisle ahead for the first time since late in the first quarter.

On the second play of Rison’s ensuing possession, leading rusher Jokenie Broughton fumbled after a 4-yard gain, and Bison senior defensive lineman Tristan Kirkman covered it at the Carlisle 49.

The Bison once again took advantage of the great field positioning by scoring the game-clinching touchdown on that drive. Carlisle’s offense put together a seven-play drive that ended with Ricks scoring his third second-half touchdown, this one on a 3-yard run with 7:09 remaining.

Rison managed a 13-play drive after the ensuing kickoff, but an incomplete pass on fourth down deep into Bison territory turned the ball back over to Carlisle. Starting from their own 16, the Bison picked up a first down on a 15-yard run by Ricks, and Brazeal followed that play with two kneel downs to end the game.

“We did stuff that was just uncharacteristic of us in the first half that put us in a bind,” Barbaree said. “In the second half we didn’t do that. We kept those feet moving – offensive linemen and backs. The defensive line was flying down the line.

“We finally figured out they were going to cut us, and we had to get off those blocks. Our kids just played hard and came away with a ‘W’ for us.”

Carlisle finished the game with 349 total yards of offense – 336 of those yards came on the ground. Rison finished with 216 yards, but was held to just 61 in the second half.

Rison struck first on the scoreboard. After the Bison offense turned the ball over on downs on their first offensive possession, the Wildcats answered with a nine-play drive that ended with a 15-yard score by Broughton with 4:41 to play in the game’s opening quarter. The PAT put the visitors up 7-0.

Carlisle answered with a nine-play scoring drive of its own on the following offensive series, which ended with the first of Ricks’ four touchdowns in the game. Weddle scored the two-point conversion to give the Bison their only lead of the first half at 8-7 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.

Rison scored on its very next possession, this time on an eight-play drive that was capped by yet another 15-yard run by Broughton. The two-point try was no good, and with 8:56 to play in the second quarter, the Wildcats led 13-8.

The Bison turned the ball over for the second time on the following possession, and after taking over at the Carlisle 43, Rison found the end zone in nine plays. Running back Christopher Leaks scored from 5 yards out on a sweep left play with 48 seconds left in the first half to set the halftime margin at 19-8.

Ricks led the Bison ground game with 21 carries for 198 yards and four touchdowns, while Weddle added 17 carries for 123 yards. Broughton led Rison with 13 carries for 99 yards and two scores, with one fumble that led to a turnover.

Carlisle will make the long trip to south Arkansas next Friday to battle the defending state champion Dragons in Junction City. Junction City dominated Hector in its quarterfinal matchup 51-7 last night. Kickoff for next Friday’s game is at 7 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke wins opener in new arena

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke’s season opener Tuesday was also its first official game at the new Gina Cox Center, and the Jackrabbits didn’t disappoint, as they beat Pulaski Robinson 66-55 to start their season 1-0.

The Jackrabbits came out fired up to play in front of their home crowd in their new state-of-the-art arena, and it showed early as they built a quick 10-2 lead with 4:36 still to play in the first quarter.

Robinson called timeout at that point, and spent the rest of the first period steadily chipping away at the Jackrabbits’ lead. By the end of the quarter, Robinson cut Lonoke’s lead to 19-16 on a three-pointer by Marcus Perkins with one second remaining.

“They tried to play it off, but they were really excited,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell. “I was excited. That was going to be a key – how quick we were going to be able settle down, get into a flow. With one, it being our first game; and two, it being our first game in this place.

“I feel like we settled down fairly quick. We’d go on a run and we’d let them back in, and then go on a run again.”

The Senators took their first lead at 22-21 with 5:33 to play in the second quarter on a steal that led to a basket at the other end by Darrian Stokes. Lonoke responded with a 9-0 run to lead 30-22 near the halfway point of the period, but by halftime, Robinson cut the Jackrabbits’ lead to 30-28.

Lonoke wasn’t able to get any separation on the scoreboard until late in the third quarter. With the score tied at 38 apiece, the ’Rabbits scored 10 unanswered points to lead 48-38 with 1:33 left in the third. The run was capped with a turnaround jumper by senior Blake Mack just outside the paint. At the end of the period, Lonoke led 50-43.

Robinson scored the first bucket of the final eight minutes, which cut the ’Rabbits’ lead to five, but that was as close as the Senators would get the rest of the way.

Senior and leading scorer Jamel Rankin scored the next five points for Lonoke, but on his final basket of the game, which was a contested a layup in transition after a steal, he went down hard on the court and was favoring his knee.

Rankin had to be carried off the floor to the Lonoke bench, and he did not return to the game. However, he did manage to walk back to the locker room on his own after the game, and other than a slight limp in his step, he appeared to be OK.

“I didn’t know exactly what it was,” Campbell said. “I think he just cramped. I thought it was his knee, but I think he’s going to be OK. He’s got to get some fluids in him, and I think he’s going to be fine.”

With Rankin out of the game, the Senators cut the deficit to six, but three-straight free throws by Lonoke on back-to-back Robinson technical fouls pushed the Jackrabbit lead to 58-49. Lonoke pushed its lead back to double digits on a transition layup by Tykel Gray with 2:44 remaining, and from there, the Jackrabbits maintained that double-digit lead till the final buzzer sounded.

Lonoke won the turnover, rebound and takeaway battles, but just barely. The ’Rabbits outrebounded the Senators 23-22, had one more takeaway with 12, and committed 17 turnovers while Robinson turned it over 22 times.

Neither team shot well at the line or from three-point range. Lonoke was 9 for 20 at the free-throw line for 45 percent, and 3 for 15 from beyond the arc for 20 percent. Robinson was 3 for 9 from the stripe for 33 percent, and 2 for 7 from three-point range for 29 percent.

Rankin’s 21 points led all scorers. He also finished with six rebounds, four assists and seven steals. Mack scored 19 points off the bench. Gray added 14 points. Darrius McCall scored nine. Stokes led the Senators with 14 points.

The Jackrabbits are off until Tuesday when they travel to Conway for an invitational tournament at St. Joseph’s High School.

SPORTS STORY >> Daring play call leads to Cabot win

Leader sports editor

Panther Stadium was jam-packed. Cabot stands were nearly silent. North Little Rock stands seemed like they could crumble to the earth at any moment. The single biggest snap of the game was about to take place. Cabot quarterback Kason Kimbrell took the snap, turned and handed the ball to fullback Zach Launius for the 44th time in the game. The Panthers had to get 3 yards for two points or the entire season was a failure. It was double overtime and North Little Rock led 42-41. Launius got 3 yards and not an inch more, lifting the Panthers to a 43-42 double overtime victory over North Little Rock, and sending Cabot to its first state championship game since 2000.

The 5-foot-6, 165-pound senior took a huge hit right at the goal line, but not before crossing the plane of the end zone.

Everyone in Panther Stadium wondered what was going on when Cabot coach Mike Malham ran his offense onto the field with his team trailing 42-41 in double overtime. All that was needed was an extra point to send the semifinal game against North Little Rock, 10-2, into a third overtime. It was the safe bet.

Going for two and failing meant an entire season of work, an entire year of expectations, an undefeated march to get to this point, was all for naught. Cabot needed three tries to score from the 5-yard line after the visiting Charging Wildcats jumped off sides on first down. They had averaged less than 1.5 yards per carry on the scoring drive. But Malham felt confident his offense could accomplish the task.

“I just felt like we had some schemes that would allow us to get it in,” Malham said. “They were moving the ball on us pretty good. I just thought it gave us the best chance to win it to try and do it now. It worked out so we’ve got one more to go.”

While nearly everyone else in the stadium fretted the decision through two timeouts, one person who didn’t was Cabot offensive lineman Heath Pledger. He didn’t have time. He had to focus, and focus is what he did.

“That last bit, it’s just give everything you got, whatever is left,” Pledger said. “And remember just one big thing, no mistakes.”

While offensive players were focusing, defensive players were sweating it out.

“Oh gosh, I was just like, it’s 50-50,” nose guard Tristan Bulice said. “We either win or we lose right here. And we’re gamblers so we go for it.”

Defensive end Brian Marshall, who had a sack and a tackle for loss, was less enthusiastic.

“I just went to my knees to pray and to cry,” Marshall said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

When the offense converted the two points, the team stampeded to the end zone for a raucous celebration. Cabot had led for all of about three and a half minutes the entire game. They trailed 14-7 at halftime, and seemed to be taking control of the game when Launius scored from 3 yards to put the Panthers ahead for the first time with 4:09 left in regulation at 28-21.

North Little Rock had not moved the ball well the entire second half, aside from one 40-yard run by Deion Tidwell that answered Cabot’s opening scoring drive and put the Wildcats back up 21-14. But after Cabot took the lead, North Little Rock became unstoppable.

The visitors marched 65 yards in 12 plays; their longest drive of the game, to score with 34 seconds left and tie the game. Malham elected to take a knee from the 27-yard line after the kickoff, and take his chances in overtime.

Cabot, 12-0, got it first and scored on three runs by Launius of 6, 3 and 1 yard. North Little Rock answered by also scoring in three runs. North Little Rock got it first in the second overtime. After an initial false-start penalty, the Wildcats hit a 14-yard crossing pattern, then sent Tidwell up the middle for another score and a 42-35 Wildcat lead.

When Cabot got the ball, North Little Rock jumped again, giving Cabot first down at the 5. Launius then ran for 1, 2, and 2 yards for the score, setting up the huge two-point conversion.

Neither team was able to muster much offense in the first quarter, but North Little Rock struck first on its third possession. Though neither team moved the ball, the Wildcats won the field-position battle, and it paid off. Starting from the Cabot 39-yard line, North Little Rock went for it all on the first play and got it. In one-on-one coverage along the visitors’ sideline, Wildcat receiver K.J. Hill outran defender Jordan Burke, and quarterback Heath Land dropped it right in his hands in stride for a 39-yard touchdown connection with 1:12 left in the opening frame.

Cabot’s next possession started at the 20, and the Panthers finally got something going. After gaining a total of 39 yards on its first two drives, Cabot covered the 80 yards needed in nine plays and used very little time, but it wasn’t without a huge help from North Little Rock.

After three plays gained just 8 yards, Cabot lined up to punt. North Little Rock called timeout, and then sent 12 players onto the field. The punt was a fake and Cabot didn’t make it, but the illegal participation penalty gave the Panthers the needed yardage for a first down and kept the drive alive.

The Panthers quickly faced third and 7, but from that point, Cabot picked up yardage in chunks. Launius carried four consecutive times for gains of 9, 20, 14 and 21 yards, with the last one going for a touchdown up the middle.

The two teams went back to trading fruitless possessions until North Little Rock got Tidwell cranked up late in the quarter.

The Wildcats went 71 yards in nine plays, with Tidwell carrying six times for 61 yards. The key play was a 48-yard burst on a draw play on third and 4. Backup quarterback Peyton Holmes took over the offense when the Wildcats got inside the 10, and kept three times for the last 10 yards and the score. The extra point put North Little Rock up 14-7 with 55 seconds left in the half, and they took that lead into intermission.

Cabot finished with 368 total yards to 321 by North Little Rock. Tidwell finished with 28 carries for 195 yards and four touchdowns. Launius had 44 carries for 243 yards and five touchdowns. Henry finished with two catches for 39 yards, including a 29-yard reception on fourth and 2 that kept Cabot’s last scoring drive of regulation alive.

The Panthers will face Bentonville at 7 p.m. Friday at War Memorial Stadium. The Tigers beat Conway 21-14 in the other semifinal game, and will be playing in their fourth-consecutive state championship game.

Friday, November 29, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Commission’s new attitude

There was a time when the commission that runs Cabot parks appeared to thumb its collective nose up at the mayor and city council.

They didn’t comply with repeated requests for the director to attend monthly meetings and give status reports even though the council is responsible for approving money that helps pay park bills. There was an air of secrecy about the commission, which banished reporters to the hallway for dubious executive sessions, and a hands-off attitude about the associations that run parks programs such as baseball, football and BMX racing.

But that was before Mayor Bill Cypert took office three years ago and started threatening to disband the commission if it didn’t, as he said, “raise the bar.” That request may have been confusing to the commission, which was by that time made up mostly of recent appointees still trying to understand their new positions.

Some almost certainly thought the real issue was the sales tax they hoped to pass to raise money for a baseball park and other improvements. If they were successful, they would get their improvements, but Cypert was unlikely to find voter support for the sales tax extension he hoped to pass for other projects, like the sewer improvements on Hwy. 5, which is expected to be the next major growth area. The mayor wanted one tax to pay for several projects to benefit many areas in the city. Parks commissioners wanted their own tax to pay for everything on their wish list. They had been without long enough, they said, and it was time to give Cabot residents recreational activities like other cities have.

A town-hall meeting held in November 2012 showed that the parks commission had the support of the various ball associations that run parks programs, but that support didn’t seem to sway the mayor and council from their resolve to force the parks commission to take more responsibility for running the parks or get out of the way and let them do it.

The meeting seemed staged until two of the commission’s newest members spoke up. Maggie Cope, who was appointed only months earlier, said she wasn’t given any direction when she was appointed. “Tell us what you want us to do to improve,” she said.

And Ken Kincade, who was appointed after Cope, said the commission had tried to do what the mayor and council wanted. They had dealt with financial irregularities at the BMX track after council members and the mayor complained but they could do more. Kincade said, “We can do better. We will do better. I don’t want anyone to think we’re giving up. We’re not giving up.”

One year later, the commission is still intact and the sales tax extension that passed in April will pay $19 million for parks projects as well as for sewer improvements for the Hwy. 5 area.

The commission has hired a new director and program director, both with education and experience in the field.

Last month, three members of the commission formed a committee to go over the 2014 budget with John Crow, the new director, who prepared the budget with the help of his employees who he said justified every expenditure before it was included. And the committee went over it line by line with the press present.

Crow and Cope, the commission chairman since last fall, attend city council meetings and gave progress reports on projects. The mayor and city attorney attend commission meetings.

The heads of the associations that run many of the park ball programs are also there to report to the commission on finances, problems and successes.

It seems clear to this observer that, if the commission thumbed its nose at the mayor and council in years past, it doesn’t now.

The council created the commission and it can disband it. That’s a fact.

Cope said to the mayor one year ago, “Tell us what you want us to do to improve.” Judging by the actions and demeanor of the commissioners, he did and they listened. – Joan McCoy

TOP STORY >> Cabot holds annual Thanksgiving feast

At the Cabot Community Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday, dozens of people enjoyed a good, hot home-cooked meal and company. The free annual dinner was held at the Cabot Church of Christ. An army of volunteers helped to prepare and serve 512 meals. People could dine at the church and visit with others or pick up a to-go box. Meals were delivered to residents who could not make it to the church.

Hot food kept rolling out of the kitchen, thanks to volunteers who cooked an extra dish at home and brought it to the church.

Cabot Community Thanksgiving Feast organizer Dane Moore said, “We want to thank our volunteers. We had 106. We could not do this without them. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Co-organizer Heather Moore said, “This year we had an outstanding turnout and a continuous flow. Several people told us they would be alone or without a meal. Thanks to the volunteers, we were able to bless many people.”

The event welcomed everyone like family. As visitors arrived, they were greeted with Happy Thanks-giving wishes, and plates were filled by smiling servers who were glad volunteer for the community.

TOP STORY >> Deadline is set for comments

Leader senior staff writer

The public comment period on a proposed settlement of the long-running Pulaski County school desegregation case will end just before Christmas.

Anyone who objects to the terms of the tentative settlement has until Dec. 23 to notify the court of those objections in writing and ask in writing to appear at the Jan. 13 fairness hearing before U.S. District Judge Price Marshall Jr.

The federal court will permit the state to wind down its financial obligations to the desegregation agreement and clear the way for Jacksonville-area residents to vote on having their own school district if Marshall signs off in January on an agreement he has tentatively approved.

He ordered creation of a widely distributed public notice of the court date to hear objections, written in plain language “so a middle school student can understand it.” On Wednesday, he approved that notice.

Unless the judge hears something to change his mind at the hearing, he could enter an order approving the settlement agreement that day or the following — when attorneys who brokered the agreement will make statements or address the objections.

The six parties to the agreement are Pulaski County Special, Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts, the Joshua and Knight Interveners and the state Education Department, represented by the attorney general’s office.

Among provisions of the agreement, the court would clear Jacksonville to pursue a stand-alone school district, majority-to-minority school transfers would be phased out, the magnet school program would be phased out and the state would discontinue its annual multi-million dollar funding of the three school districts after the 2017-18 school year.

The settlement calls for the state to continue desegregation payments for this school year and to pay for three more years, each at the rate of $37.3 million for Little Rock, $7.6 million for North Little Rock and $20.8 million for PCSSD.

The state will provide a fourth year at the same rate, but with the stipulation that the money be used to build or improve academic facilities.

Section E-1 of the agreement reads, “The state and the districts agree that the state may immediately authorize the creation of a Jacksonville/north Pulaski area school district consistent with state law.”

But the agreement also states that no other districts could be formed out of PCSSD until it is declared unitary, or desegregated.

The fairness hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 13 at the Richard Sheppard Arnold United States Courthouse, Court Room 1-A, 500 W. Capitol Ave. in Little Rock. “Class members may have the opportunity to present evidence and objections to the settlement at that time,” the notice reads.

Those class members who wish to object must submit their objections in writing by Dec. 23 to: James W. McCormack, Clerk of the Court, United States District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, Richard Sheppard Arnold United States Courthouse, 600 W. Capitol Ave., Room A149, Little Rock, Ark. 72201, Attn: Desegregation Case — Proposed Settlement Agreement.

According to the notice, these are the key terms of the settlement:

 The state will continue to make desegregation payments to the districts for four more years and no longer.

 The M-to-M program will not accept new applications this year, and applications for students living in NLRSD or PCSSD to transfer to the six stipulation Magnet schools in LRSD will no longer be accepted;

 Students currently enrolled in the M-to-M program can continue in this program as long as their parent or guardian chooses (including through high school graduation).

 Students living in NLRSD or PCSSD now en-rolled in one of the six stipulation Magnet schools in the LRSD can continue in their school as long as their parent or guardian chooses (including through the highest grade in the school).

 After three years, the districts will not be required to provide free transportation to M-to-M or stipulation magnet students who cross district lines, but the districts may do so if they choose to, and

 All of the state’s obligations in this case end once the last payment is made to the districts under the proposed settlement agreement.

The six stipulation magnet schools will continue to exist. The proposed settlement agreement changes the rules for who can enroll in these schools and the availability of transportation.

The PCSSD will remain under court supervision for a time and continue to pursue unitary status. The possible creation of a Jacksonville/North Pulaski area school district consistent with state law is authorized.

The state will oppose the creation of any other school district from PCSSD’s territory until PCSSD is declared fully unitary and released from court supervision.

Members of the Joshua Class who have questions concerning the claims asserted in this litigation, the proposed settlement agreement, or the fairness hearing, should direct their questions in writing to counsel for the Joshua Intervenors: John W. Walker, 1723 Broadway, Little Rock, Ark. 72206-1220,

Members of the Knight Interveners who have questions concerning the claims asserted in this litigation, the proposed settlement agreement, or the fairness hearing, should direct their questions in writing to counsel for the Knight Interveners: Mark Burnette or Clayton Blackstock, Mitchell Black-stock Law Firm, 1010 W. Third Street, Little Rock, Ark. 72201, or

Please do not call or write the court, or the clerk of the court, for information or advice, the notice concluded.

The exact language of the settlement can be viewed online at

TOP STORY >> Range targets early ’14 start

Leader staff writer

Look for a “sometime in January” or March opening of the $3.5 million sporting facility, according to Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

The facility on 160 acres off Loop and Graham roads near the Lonoke County line is being financed by a promised $2 million grant from the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, about $500,000 from the city’s Advertising and Promotion Commission, private donations, county assistance and a $3 million short-term line of credit.

The mayor said a group has already asked to use one of the meeting rooms in mid- December, “and I think we will be able to accommodate them.”

But there will be a soft opening in January, Fletcher insisted.

Parks and Recreation director Kevin House said a big, full blown opening with a ribbon cutting and dignitaries will be in early March.

“That allows us to get the all the kinks worked out before tournaments start,” House said.

He said the facility is almost finished, but there is still dirt work to be done and that’s where weather is holding back completion.

“The last few days haven’t been good work days because of the rain and cold,” Fletcher said. “Even if we get it all done before that, we will still wait until after the first of the year because of the holidays and we want to have some dry runs to make sure everything is top notch.”

The work has actually been costing the contractor, StoneBridge of Jonesboro, money since early September.

“That’s when their contract days ran out. Their work is very good, but they are behind,” House said.

“It was originally set for Aug. 31, then a hopeful Oct. 1,” he explained. He’s not sure when it will open for certain.

House is excited about the number of sport-shooting leagues and teams that may use facility.

“There are 59 youth teams within an hour of us that we’d like to get into the facility,” he said.

Plans are in the works for local youth and adult leagues. “This is a sport where you can shoot from 9 to 90,” House said.

Once built, the facility will become the home of the state’s youth sport-shooting program. That alone is projected to bring about $4.5 million into the local economy.

When it does open, House will serve as the manager, at least to start with. The city had hired an individual from the parks and recreation department to manage the $3 million, 14-station sport-shooting range, but he resigned from the parks department a few weeks later.

“For the time being, we are not going to hire a manager,” House said. “We are taking a close look at the requirements, duties and salary for that individual for when we do go out seeking the individual.”

In the meantime, the mayor said everyone would step up.

“We will not neglect any duty of the parks and recreation department or the shooting range,” Fletcher said.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Lonoke mulls chicken plan

Henry IV, the 16th century French king, is said to have pledged to his people, “I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.”

In that spirit, we support the efforts of Joanna Dowlearn, who recently asked the Lonoke City Council to overturn the ordinance that bans chickens in town. Dowlearn belongs to Lonokians for Backyard Chickens, a group that believes the plan will help provide families with nourishment and promote a connection to the community’s farming roots.

“Folks want the option to have a natural, healthy, sustainable way to provide for their families,” she told the city council.

The back-to-the-land movement was bound to hit close to home sooner or later. New York, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Seattle and now Little Rock allow residents to keep a small number of chickens. Why not Lonoke or any other area community?

Council members and the mayor rightly asked several questions about the feasibility of Dowlearn’s proposal, which includes allowing an unlimited number of quails, pheasants, guineas, ducks and even roosters so long as they are housed in their own 3-by-3 coops or 4-by-4 runs.

Mayor Wayne McGee recommended that the measure be sent to the voters. To avoid the expense of an election, Dowlearn should revise her plan by limiting it only to a few hens. That should be enough to win the council’s backing.

Who can say no to poultry on Thanksgiving?

EDITORIAL >> Thanksgiving about charity

As the holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving tomorrow, we encourage readers to support the many charitable endeavors around the area. Today’s paper mentions several places where people in need may get a free Thanksgiving meal as well as several Christmas collection drives that are working to ensure children especially have a happy holiday.

These efforts indicate the communities’ generosity but also the rising number of people in need during a tough economy.

We salute the work of people like the Arkansas Dream Center of Cabot (see story on page 6A) that delivered 21 meals and 122 frozen turkeys to residents in Beebe, Cabot, Jacksonville, Lonoke and Ward on Saturday.

Hope’s Closet, a Cabot-based charity group, distributed 375 boxes of food to area families over the weekend. Thousands will be fed thanks to them.

On Thursday, the fourth annual Cabot Community Thanksgiving Feast will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Cabot Church of Christ, 500 N. Second St. Meals will be available for dine-in or takeaway. Last year, the dinner fed 500 people. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Beebe First United Methodist Church hosts a free and open-to-all Thanksgiving dinner from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Thursday. Reservations are appreciated, but not required. Call 501-882-6427 or Bill Palmisano at 501-882-9565 to RSVP. Takeout and delivery will be available in Beebe and McRae. If needed, transportation can be arranged in the Beebe area. The church is at 302 N. Main St.

Synagogue New Life Church of God in Christ is holding a free Thanksgiving dinner from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. today. The church is at 2015 N. First St. in Jacksonville. Delivery to some areas will be available for elderly and handicapped people.

The Cabot Panther Foundation contributed $4,800 to sponsor the Arkansas Rice Depot’s Food for Kids program at Central Elementary and Ward Central Elementary, which provides students in need with new backpacks filled with food for weekends. The schools were chosen for the program because they have the highest number of students on free or reduced lunch plans in the district.

The Cabot Christmas Alliance’s annual Coats for Christmas campaign is underway to make sure that kids are clothed properly. Keep that in mind as the temperature drops to a bitter 25 degrees today. They need all sizes of coats for children and adults. Drop-off boxes are at Kroger’s, Regency Cleaners, various schools and First Baptist Church of Cabot. For more information, call 501-804-1428.

Many other Christmas charity programs have already begun and appear throughout today’s paper.

While we gather with families to enjoy Thanksgiving, remember all of the community groups who are working hard to ease the burden of people struggling to make ends meet.

TOP STORY >> Youngsters share turkey secrets

Leader staff writer

For more than 30 years, the professionally-trained turkey experts who make up the Turkey Talk-Line have been answering turkey-related questions each holiday season.

Available every November and December, the 50 or so turkey experts answer more than 100,000 questions — in both English and Spanish — for thousands of households around the United States and Canada.

But if the line is busy or you want to know how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey from someone closer to home, take the advice of these young students from Warren Dupree Elementary School in Jacksonville.

Second grader Elijah says to make a good Thanksgiving turkey “you can go to the store and buy what stuff you need. Then you can turn on a video and see how to make a turkey.”

Jacob, 7, agrees with the going to the store part. But then he says, “Next you take it out of the bag. Then, put it in the oven. Finally, you eat it.” Length of time and temperature didn’t seem to bother him.

Jayden, an 8-year-old, is also a believer in going to the store. But that is the first step, according to Jayden. “Second step is chop off the head, third is put it in the oven and fourth is have a good night.”

Second grader Ta’Shawn doesn’t mess with the store. “I go to the restaurant and get it,” he said.

Third grader Danny doesn’t need a store either. “You need to hunt or find a turkey and then you kill it with everything you got with you.”

Rachel, 8, is obviously a fast-food fan. She says, “Put it in the oven for 10 minutes. I would have good dressing in it. Yum.”

Fellow classmate Chantz believes in taking a little more time. “I would boil it. I would boil the water for 30 minutes at 325 degrees. Then I would boil the turkey and bread it — saltines, if wanted. Cook it about 40 minutes. Then Wala!” according to the 8-year-old.

Andrew, another 8-year-old, would, of course, put the turkey in the oven. “Then take it out of the oven and let it cool down for one minute, then eat it.” He adds, “For Thanksgiving we will eat two turkeys and some mashed potatoes and gravy and some corn. I cannot wait.”

Makaila, a third grader, gives some important advice. “First, take the plastic bag out of the turkey and then turn the oven on the right time,” she says. Continuing, she adds, “You put the turkey in the oven, wait a minute then take the turkey out of the oven.”

Classmate Jeremiah was succinct and to the point, “Wash it, clean it, season it, put it in the oven, eat it.”

Third grader Destiny suggests putting the turkey “on a big fat plate before you put it in the oven for four minutes and 200 seconds and wait.” She adds, “you need to cook other stuff when the turkey is finished, put it all on the table and wait for your family to come.”

Granger, at 9, is a year old than many of his classmates. He takes a totally different approach.

“To cook a turkey,” he says, “I would stick two slingshot-like sticks in the ground and put the turkey on a stick. I would put a fire under it and I would put the turkey stick on the slingshot-like kinda thing and turn it until done like the Indians.”

Jeremy, a 9-year-old, seems to like well done turkey. “To cook a turkey I would roll it and put it in the oven. I would make the fire 1,000 degrees.”

Trsityn plans to deep fry the turkey. “I would pluck the feathers off first. Deep fry my turkey and then put it on the table and eat it,” explains the 8-year-old.

And then there are the first graders. Agiauna, 6, says, “You bake the turkey first, then put it in the oven, then you wait until it’s done, and that’s all you do.”

Classmate Kamora puts the cooking workload on her mother. “My mom puts it in the oven and waits for it to get brown, then we take it out and put vegetables over it,” she says.

Treyden, 6, is very technical in his explanation. “You put it in the oven, let it cook and when the time thingy beeps, you take it out.”

Then there is the out-of-box thinker, Jason. The 6-year-old says, “First you have to make two round circles, and an oval in the middle, then draw two legs, three feet, draw feather hands and draw a circle on the head.”

Of course, if none of this advice is helpful, there is always the Butterball Hotline. Not only will they answer questions about how to cook a moist turkey, they’ll help you with shopping tips, food safety and recipes for side dishes and desserts.

The helpline is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thanksgiving day. Call them at 1-800-BUTTERBALL or e-mail them at

Foster Farms turkey experts are there as a resource for consumers to help avoid any potential Thanksgiving disasters with their helpline. Foster Farms Turkey Hotline (1-800-255-7227) will answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Saturday.

If you’re afraid of making your guests ill or would like to talk to friendly bureaucrats, there is the USDA Meat Hotline. The hotline has a series of pre-recorded messages that answer frequently-asked questions on safe meat handling, cross-contamination and how to not send everyone to the hospital. The number is 1-888-MPHOTLINE.

Reynolds Wrap has a website offering Thanksgiving recipes like pumpkin cake, mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables — all using Reynolds Wrap. Their hotline, 1-800-745-4000 offers pre-recorded turkey thawing and roasting help.

TOP STORY >> Officials question assessor’s expenses

Leader staff writer

A complaint to the Lonoke County Quorum Court Thursday night about inappropriate spending in the assessor’s office is valid, according to the county clerk who has asked the assessor to reimburse the county.

But County Assessor Jack McNally says he’s not sure he’s willing to pay back anything.

County Clerk Larry Clarke said Friday, “If it was a judgment call, I’d err on the side of the elected official, but this is cut and dry.” He was referring to a $236 Cabot Sign and Banner bill for two signs with the “Wounded Warrior” logo that McNally ordered and placed in his Cabot office and also used at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Clarke said he and Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin talked to the state Division of Legislative Audit about that bill.

“I wasn’t put in office to just pay bills and go about my business,” Clarke said.

The law is clear, he continued. “You can’t use tax payers’ funds on private organizations,” Clarke said.

Wounded Warriors is a worthy cause that should be supported, but not by taxpayers, he said.

McNally said that since the signs were going in the assessor’s office he assumed his office should pay for them. He bought two signs and an A-shaped frame to hold them.

McNally also set out a collection bucket and took in about $37 over a three-week period before County Judge Doug Erwin told him to remove the bucket. He cut a personal check for that amount and sent it to Wounded Warriors, McNally said.

If he needs to reimburse the county, the amount should be the $70 for the two signs because he can use the frame to advertise the mobile assessor’s office he takes to England every month, McNally insisted.

Clarke said he is working with Erwin and County Treasurer Patty Weathers to try to “raise the bar” in the operations of Lonoke County offices.

Weathers told The Leader that she digs into accounts that are setting idle to find all the money the county can use. Erwin has closed accounts for his road and bridge department and pooled funds into one so it is always apparent how much money his department has, she said.

Clarke said it’s his job to question expenditures like McNally’s $224.70 purchase of six short-sleeved shirts for his own use.

According to the legislative audit, nothing about McNally’s job requires him to wear uniforms. So the purchase was an “inappropriate expenditure” and one that Clarke hasn’t yet called to McNally’s attention.

Neither has he talked to him about buying water, coffee, disposable plates, plastic flatware and frozen lasagna on his county account at Fred’s.

Office supplies are an acceptable expenditure. But Clarke said, “We don’t need to be charging the taxpayers for our lunch.”

The spending at Fred’s is a gray area, but the signs and shirts are not, he continued.

McNally needs to pay restitution and let the county move on to important issues, like finding money to run the sheriff’s department and jail, Clarke said.

TOP STORY >> Tracing family roots

Leader creative editor

distant relative has been in touch with my paternal grandparents in recent years, providing them with family history he’s researched — such as a pedigree, some legal documents like census records, etc. He’s traced a family line dating to the Revolutionary War.

That is just one line of my family. I found this information interesting and decided to start looking into making my own family tree. I started with an Internet search, but soon learned that researching your family history is not so easy.

Many genealogy websites require a paid subscription, which could get costly seeing as how you can find information on one that you may not find on another.

When I saw a sign outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — located at 6110 T.P. White Drive in Jacksonville — that read “Family History Center,” I jumped at the chance to find out more.

Each Wednesday, volunteer church members are on hand to help guide those seeking to create their own family trees.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Doris Crain, a volunteer, said. “This leading collection of genealogy our church has collected. It’s free to the public.”

The Salt Lake City, Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has subscriptions to many of the genealogy websites — as well as its own site — and provides these free of charge to the public.

Some branches of the church, located across the nation, are designated family history centers like the one in Jacksonville. They are networked with the main church in Utah, giving them access to a collection of thousands of records.

The church has its own website,, and subscriptions to many other premium genealogy sites like and

Church members gather information from history commissions — records like census, Social Security death records, marriage licenses, birth certificates, etc.

Families are also welcome to donate information to the church. Volunteers fact check records too.

“We have checks and balances,” assistant Kelli Scott said. “We have a more than one set of eyes check everything.”

Anyone can walk in off the street with just a name and discover their lineage.

“Quite often, one of the things that happens here is people will walk in with nothing,” Sherry Smith, assistant director of the church’s Family History Center. “They just want to search their family history.”

I chose to work on a line I didn’t know much about, my maternal grandparents. I walked in with my great-grandmother’s name. Within minutes, the volunteers had led me to discovering her parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents.

But, after two visits to the center, I’ve only traced around five generations or so of my family.

“It’s a constant work,” Smith says. “What’s really delightful is when you discover something that hasn’t been found yet.”

The local Family History Center is open from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Use of the computers and record books is free to the public. But it costs 15 cents to print copies.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Turnovers doom Panthers in opener

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers made a valiant come back from a nine-point deficit and force overtime, but missed too many free throws and committed too many turnovers in losing the season opener to Conway 57-51 at Panther Arena.

Both teams are still playing without a few key players who are still competing in the class 7A football semifinals. Cabot is missing one guard that’s still with the football team. It just got another guard back from an injury, and he fouled out. The end result was two quick steals late in the second overtime that helped the Wampus Cats to finally pull away for a 57-51 win.

“We’re shallow at the guard position and we can’t afford to commit silly fouls,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “And we’ve got to stop going 1 for 2 at the free-throw line. When we have a chance to get a lead and put a game away, we have to step up there and hit two. It’s just frustrating. We could’ve won this game.”

Three Conway players fouled out, including both starting post players, but it was the Wampus Cat guard play that led to Cabot’s undoing.

Trent Walden scored 12 of his 20 points in the second overtime, hitting all three shot attempts and going 6 of 7 at the free-throw line.

After being tied at 41 at the end of the first overtime, Conway raced out to a 51-44 lead with 1:41 left in the second overtime. Cabot’s Michael Smith then made two free throws to make it a five-point game. After a miss on Cabot’s end, Conway got the rebound, but Smith knocked it away. Walden picked it up and lost it to Cabot’s Jeremiah Penner, who banked in a 22-foot three pointer from the top of the key to make it a two-point ball game with 1:27 left.

Walden and Smith traded two more points apiece to leave it 53-51 with 52 seconds on the clock. Walden was fouled and hit two free throws with 28 seconds remaining, then got a steal and a layup with 13 seconds left to set the final margin.

“We just have to play better than that,” Bridges said. “I thought we did some things well. We had some young guys that stepped in and played well for us. I thought we were going to be able to score the basketball a lot better than we did. But we sure didn’t do that tonight, especially in the first half.”

The first quarter was an event to forget. Both teams finished with more turnovers and fouls than points as the Wampus Cats took a 4-3 lead into the second period.

Both teams struggled to even get shots. Cabot took just five in the period while Conway shot it six times.

The pace began to quicken in the second quarter, but points were still hard to come by for both teams, at least for a time. Conway turned on the full-court pressure and Cabot committed eight turnovers.

Cabot scored first in the second half, but Conway answered with six-straight points to take a 23-14 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter, but that was the last point the Wampus Cats would score in the frame.

Cabot didn’t come back in a whirlwind, only trimming the margin to 23-20 by quarter’s end, but didn’t fall apart in the face of a growing deficit.

Tyler Hill entered the game for the first time with 28 seconds left in the quarter to play defense on the last possession, and did his job well. Hill came up with a steal as Jones penetrated, then dished to Southerland who hit a running jumper from 15 feet to pull the Panthers to within three.

Conway scored first in the fourth and maintained its five-point lead until 5:22 left in the game. That was the beginning of another Conway scoring drought, as Cabot forced five-straight turnovers to climb back into a tie at 29.

The Wampus Cats turned it over again and York hit one of two free throws to give the Panthers their first lead of the game. After another Conway time-out, the Cats again turned it over without a shot, and again York was fouled driving up the court.

He made the first foul shot and missed the second, but Michael Smith got the rebound. York missed from 17 feet and Rowe missed a putback. Sophomore Hunter Southerland then got another offensive board and put it back for a 33-29 Cabot lead with 2:10 left.

Cabot made just 14 of 45 shot attempts and was 21 of 37 from the foul line. York led the Panthers with 14 points while Smith added nine. Southerland scored seven points and had a game-high 10 rebounds. Penner and Rowe also scored seven points. Walden’s 20 led Conway while Ellis added 13.

SPORTS STORY >> Bison see a familiar style from Rison team

Leader sportswriter

Friday night’s class 2A quarterfinal matchup will be a battle of smash mouth running games, as Rison, the No. 3 seed from the dominant 2A-8 Conference, will make the trip to Fred C. Hardke Field to take on the Carlisle Bison.

Neither team has faced much adversity since the playoffs began almost three weeks ago. The Wildcats (9-3) dominated Mountainburg 52-6 before beating 2A-5 champion Magnet Cove 36-14 last week.

The Bison (11-1) had little trouble in their postseason opener against Marked Tree, winning that one 38-6 before running for more than 500 yards in a 48-26 win over Conway Christian last week at home.

“I think they’re pretty good,” said Carlisle coach Brandon Barbaree. “I think they’re pretty good up front. They’re real senior laden on the offensive line. They’ve used a lot of young kids on defense, which they have a big roster for a Rison football team.

“Usually, Rison is around the upper 20s or right at the 30s. This year, they have 41 kids on their roster, and they play a lot of kids. That’s what worries me the most is they’re going to keep a lot of those bodies fresh.”

The Wildcats used that depth to secure the No. 3 seed out of a conference that’s featured the last two class 2A state champions in Junction City and Strong, and four teams from that conference are still alive in the 2013 playoffs.

Rison, Junction City, Strong and Bearden are the four 2A-8 teams still standing. Junction City and Bearden played for last year’s state title, and are once again the top two seeds from that conference this year. The two teams remaining from the 2A-6 are Carlisle and league champion Des Arc, who handed the No. 2 seed Bison their only loss this season.

Leading Rison’s offense is senior quarterback Nathan Wilson (5-8, 160), who rushed for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns last year as a junior. He passed for just 340 yards in 2012, but threw eight touchdowns. His ability to read defenses and make quick decisions with the football is a skill that stands out to Barbaree.

“He’s the all-time leading rusher for a quarterback at Rison,” Barbaree said of Wilson. “That’s a big deal for a place that tradition-rich. They’re probably one of the top five or six winningest programs in the state – maybe a little bit higher than that.

“He’s their leader. He runs it quite a bit, but when he throws, usually it’s a completion. They may only throw it two or three times a game, but it’s usually for big plays.”

In the past, Rison has been a Veer-type of offensive team, but Barbaree says this year’s team likes to run a lot of lead isolation plays, and will try and get outside with sweep plays. Like Carlisle, Rison’s success in the running game is based on whether or not its linemen can win the battle in the trenches.

Other than Wilson, the playmakers in the Wildcats’ backfield are running backs Zuntario Oliver and JoKenzie Broughton. Oliver (6-0, 175; 4.8 speed) racked up nearly 700 yards rushing a season ago, and in that time averaged 4.7 yards per carry, 25 yards per reception and 16 yards per kickoff return.

Broughton ran for 799 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and averaged a whopping 14 yards per carry. The senior is the Wildcats’ leading rusher this season, and ran for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason opener against Mountainburg.

“He looks like a workhorse on film,” Barbaree said of Broughton, “and he’s another senior. So you know he’s been through some battles.”

On film, Barbaree has seen Rison in a 4-3 defense most of the time, and says the young players the Wildcats use on that side of the ball play with a high motor, and have a lot of athleticism, especially on the line.

However, considering the Bison like to pound the ball down opposing defense’s throats with their powerful run game, Barbaree says his team is getting ready to see even more Wildcats stacked up front come Friday.

“We’re prepared for a five and six front,” Barbaree said. “I don’t know what personnel will be up there, but I know they’ll get after it, and it should be a heck of a game.”

Kickoff for Friday’s quarterfinal matchup is at 7 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win Classic

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville boys went 3-0 in the 16th annual Searcy Bank Classic, and clinched the tournament championship with a close 53-48 win over class 6A Benton on Saturday at the Searcy High School gymnasium.

Jacksonville (4-0), the defending class 5A state champion, trailed the Panthers (1-2) by a point at halftime, but opened the second half with a 7-0 run to lead 34-28 with just over three-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Benton called timeout, and after the Panthers took the inbound pass at half court, point guard Clay Anderson held the ball at half court until only seconds remained in the third quarter. Running one final play, senior forward Josh Bowling scored a basket inside with just four ticks remaining to cut the Jacksonville lead to 34-30 by the end of the period.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “That’s a good Benton team. They’ve got a couple of Division-I players. To gut it out like that and come back, they showed a lot of heart and desire.

“But still, we made so many mistakes because they don’t know how to play with the intensity on this level for a whole game. There are a lot of little things they can’t do well. We’ve just been blessed to get to 4-0 right now, because we could easily be 0-4.”

A three-pointer by Benton sophomore guard Cason Maertens at the start of the fourth period narrowed the Red Devils’ lead to one, and with 4:48 to play, an and-one by Bowling knotted up the score at 40 apiece.

Jacksonville had an answer for just about every Benton basket in the final quarter, but that didn’t deter the Panthers’ efforts. With 2:14 remaining, Maertens drained another three from the same spot he did at the start of the quarter, which tied the score at 45-45.

Junior Red Devil Devin Campbell missed a baseline three on the following possession, but junior forward Tedric Wolfe tipped in the basket to put the Red Devils back up 47-45. Jacksonville’s defense managed to contain Benton’s scoring efforts, and with 46 seconds to play, the Panthers had to foul.

Unfortunately for Benton, it fouled the wrong guy. Veteran and leading scorer Sergio Berkley was sent to the line for a one-and-one situation, and Berkley wasn’t at all phased by the moment as he calmly drained both free throws to extend the Devils’ lead to 49-45.

Jacksonville’s defense held yet again, and Berkley was once again sent to the line with 17.4 seconds remaining. After he calmly drained two more free throws, Blake Bowlin hit a three-pointer with 8.8 ticks remaining to cut the Panther deficit to 51-48.

Berkley once again got open on the inbound pass, and with his team ahead by three with six seconds to play, he went to line for another one-and-one opportunity. Berkley calmly made the first attempt to seal the game and tournament title for the Red Devils, and he made the second one to set the final score.

“He’s been there,” Joyner said of Berkley. “He doesn’t get rattled because he’s seen it all. He’s been a part of two championship runs, and he’s a champion. He wants the ball in big situations, and that’s just Sergio. That’s how Sergio is.”

Berkley’s 6 for 6 showing at the line was huge for Jacksonville in the waning seconds, but as a team, the Red Devils shot well throughout the four quarters played, making 18 of 22 free throws for 82 percent. Benton was perfect at the line, making 6 of 6 attempts.

The two respective teams were comparable at the three-point line, as Jacksonville made 5 of 14 attempts for 36 percent, which was a slightly better percentage than the Panthers’ 35 on 6 of 17 shooting.

Jacksonville outrebounded Benton 24-20, and committed one fewer turnover with six. The Red Devils committed just one turnover in the second half, but Benton committed zero after turning it over seven times in the first two quarters played.

Berkley led all scorers with 19 points, while Wolfe added 13 and Campbell nine for Jacksonville. Maertens led Benton with 14 points. Bowlin scored 12, and Bowling recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Jacksonville opened the tournament with a 70-66 win over the tournament host on Thursday, and on Friday, walloped fellow class 5A-member Greenbrier 71-52 to stay unbeaten.

The Red Devils will be off until Dec. 3 when they travel to West Memphis for a nonconference game with the class 7A Blue Devils. Jacksonville narrowly beat West Memphis in its season opener 68-65 on Nov. 15.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot not sure what to expect from Wildcats

Leader sports editor

The Cabot football team is one win away from playing its first state championship game in 13 years. Standing in the way is one of its nearest and biggest rivals, and perhaps the state’s most talent-rich team in North Little Rock.

These two teams met in week four of the season and in the first conference game of the year for both teams. Cabot ran all over North Little Rock at Charging Wildcat Stadium, and held off a late comeback to win the first meeting 48-32. Neither team has lost a game since that day, and North Little Rock appears to have gotten stronger as the season progressed.

The Wildcats, 10-2, enter Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup at Panther Stadium on an eight-game win streak. They have advanced to their rematch with Cabot with playoff wins over Rogers Heritage, 49-16, and Bryant, 28-7.

The win over Heritage tells how potent North Little Rock’s offense has become. Heritage lost 28-27 to Fayetteville in week six on a last-second kick-off return for a touchdown, then held seven-time 7A-West champion Bentonville to 13 points in a three-point loss.

“They haven’t even had a contest since we played them,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said of the Wildcats. “I think Bryant’s played them closest. Nobody has played them within 21 points. Central played them pretty good for three quarters, but it’s hard to keep that many athletes from making plays for a whole game. They’re the most talented team in the state.”

Indeed, North Little Rock beat Little Rock Central and Jonesboro by 24 points each, none of the other six opponents have been within 33, with two wins by more than 50 and one more than 60.

Cabot caught the Wildcats a week after they lost Arkansas Razorback commitment Juan Day for the season during a 35-14 win over Pine Bluff. The following week against Cabot, the Wildcats tried to throw the ball almost exclusively, and with plenty of success. Quarterback Heath Land completed 26 of 46 pass attempts for398 yards against the Panthers in September.

Since that loss, they have been a more run-oriented team. Senior Deion Tidwell moved from fullback to tailback to replace Day, and has been extremely effective. He has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in just eight games at tailback. He also lines up at quarterback and runs the spread option with big-play threats Fabian Lewis and K.J. Hill as the other options.

“The Tidwell kid has been running wild and of course they’ve got Hill on the outside,” Malham said. “They’ve got (Lewis) in there too and he hit a big play on us last time. We’re definitely going to have to protect against giving up the big play because that’s what they beat you with. Every play they’re going to give it to somebody who’s a threat to score.”

The run scheme by North Little Rock is welcomed by Malham, who believes run defense is a strength of his team. The statistics in the first meeting seemed to bear that out.

The Wildcats tried to run 17 times and gained only 47 yards. Tidwell had 12 carries for 22 yards. Lewis got the ball one time and went 34 yards, setting the Wildcats up with first and goal and leading to a touchdown that made it 13-12 midway through the second quarter.

“We’ve been pretty good against the run this year, but they’re definitely running it better than they were when they played us the first time,” Malham said.

North Little Rock tried just one rush the entire second half, a direct snap to Hill that he dropped, and the play resulted in -12 yards. In no game is the Wildcats’ strategy turnaround more evident than last week’s game, when Tidwell carried 42 times for 343 yards. Land completed 8 of 15 passes for 53 yards and an interception.

Cabot, 11-0, tried just four passes the entire game in September, gaining just eight yards. The Panthers ran 63 times for 450 yards, with fullback Zach Launius getting the bulk of the load with 38 carries for 221 yards and four touchdowns.

Launius has rushed for 1,558 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, and he’s had less than 15 carries in five of those games. He has carried it 185 times for an average of 8.4 yards per carry.

The Panthers have played the last three games without starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Jake Vaughn, but his replacement has played extremely well. Junior Jack Whisker had his best defensive game last week, recording eight tackles, including a sack, and got an interception. He also filled in at fullback in week three when Launius sat out with concussion symptoms, and carried 25 times for 98 yards.

“He’s been a valuable back up for us on both sides of the ball,” Malham said of Whisker.

Vaughn could return this week and if so, the Panthers will have everyone healthy for the semifinal matchup.

“You sort of expect a high-scoring game because it was high-scoring last time, but you just don’t know,” Malham said. “Hopefully we can slow them down a little bit and offensively not turn the ball over. We’ve had a couple of those in the last few games. Hopefully we don’t help them out. Turnovers will be big for either team. We feel like if we play good ball it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter. Hopefully we can keep that ball and keep those playmakers off the field and if we don’t give up the big play, we can take a pretty good year and make it a little better.”