SPORTS >> Conway goes to air to bomb Panthers
Leader sports writer
The favorite almost never wins the Cabot-Conway football game that has become a season-opening staple in the state of Arkansas. Tuesday night was no different, as the underdog Wampus Cats went to the air to down the Panthers 21-7 in the first game of the Diamond Bank Bowl doubleheader.
Cabot was only slightly favored, and head Panther Mike Malham wasn’t surprised to see the run-oriented Cats take to the air.
“We have a lot of young guys back there,” Malham said. “They had almost everybody back from last year, so they have a lot more experience than we did, and that showed.”
Conway coach Kenny Smith gave an I-told-you-so speech after the game.
“I’ve been telling you that we’re going to air it out,” Smith said.
The plan worked beautifully, as Conway quarterback Casey Cooper completed 8 of 10 pass attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown.
Cooper played a tremendous game,” Smith said. “His passes were right on target, he made good decisions, but that’s not all that won this game. Everybody knows to beat Cabot you have to win it in the trenches, and I thought our front men did a heckuva job tonight. This is a big win and great way to start the season.”
Conway’s first drive looked easy. It started with a 29-yard run by tailback Eric Crenshaw on the first play of the game. Two running plays gained two yards, but back-to-back completions put Conway at the Cabot 16-yard line.
Tailback Patrick Harris did the rest, picking up those 16 yards on the next play for a 7-0 Conway lead just two minutes and nine seconds into the game.
Cabot answered right back, although it took a little longer.
The Panthers ground out 78 yards on 10 plays, starting with a 26-yarder by halfback Alex Tripp, and ending with a 1-yard run by fullback Richard Williams. The extra point was good to tie the game with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
Cabot had plenty more offensive success, but couldn’t manage another score.
After holding Conway to one first down, the Panthers threw an interception on the ninth play of their next drive.
After the pick, Harris went three yards to the Conway 23, before lightning struck for the Wampus Cats. On the very next play, Cooper found wide receiver Luke Pruett streaking down the sidelines. Pruett caught the perfectly thrown ball over his inside shoulder, behind the Cabot secondary, and cruised into the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown strike.
Cabot went three and out on its next drive. Conway got to the Cabot 15, but missed a field goal to set Cabot up at its own 20.
The Panthers put together another impressive drive, getting all the way to the Conway 9-yard line in 13 plays. Starting quarterback Cory Wade was hurt on the 12th play, a 6-yard completion to Colin Fuller that set up third and four and the 6-yard line.
After a Cabot timeout, backup quarterback John Flynn was sacked for a 3-yard loss, and Cabot missed a 26-yard field goal to come away empty after the long drive.
Conway took over at its own 20 with less than a minute remaining in the half, and took a knee to run out the clock.
After a first half that saw both teams gain yards easily, the second half was a defensive struggle.
Cabot managed just 74 yards in the second half, while Conway gained 116.
Fifty-one of Conway’s yards in the second half came on the game-clinching drive late in the fourth quarter.
After struggling throughout the half, the Wampus Cats bit off chunks of yardage at a time on the last drive. Backup fullback Jaycob Baker gained 10, 5 and 10 yards respectively on his first three carries of the drive. The next two plays lost four yards to set up third and 13 with 1:49 remaining in the game.
Cabot used its last timeout and Conway was trying to run out the clock, but changed courses on the ensuing play. To the surprise of some, Cooper dropped back to pass on third and long, and found receiver Lance Amos all alone in the end zone with 1:42 remaining.
Cabot tried throwing the ball in its last-ditch effort, but Flynn was under pressure. He was forced to keep on the first play, then threw into double coverage. The pass was tipped and intercepted by Jermall Whitworth to seal the game for the Wampus Cats.
Conway finished with 298 total yards, while Cabot gained 278.
Pruett led the Conway receivers in yardage, catching two passes for 90 yards. Amos was Cooper’s favorite target, catching five passes for 73 yards.
Crenshaw led Conway on the ground with just 43 yards on seven carries. The Wampus Cats only managed 116 yards on 36 carries as a team.
Cabot gained all but six yards on the ground, with Tripp leading the way with 100 yards on 13 carries. Brandon Wade picked up 87 yards on 13 totes while Williams gained 61 yards on 16 carries.
The Panthers will have a long week of preparation before its home opener next Friday against Mills University Studies.