SPORTS >>Panthers dominate line, come up short
Leader sports editor
The Cabot Panthers did almost everything they needed to pull off the biggest upset of the year, but something else went wrong, special teams. The Panthers missed an extra point, a two-point conversion and a field goal and fell 14-12 to the undefeated Central Tigers Friday night at Quigley Stadium in Little Rock.
Penalties also did a number on the Panthers, who came up empty at the end of a long drive early in the first quarter because of two penalties after getting to the Central 11. The Tigers scored on big plays. The first was a 20-yard reception by Charles Clay, the second an 80-yard run by Clay that put the Tigers up 14-6. Cabot coach Mike Malham was pleased with his team’s effort, especially the offensive line, but knows his team is in a tough spot now that it sits 1-3 in conference play.
“Well we’ve got to win out,” Malham said. “That’s what we’re left with. I thought we played well. They hadn’t given up much of anything to anybody all year, and we moved the ball on them. We missed that extra point and it put us behind. We just couldn’t overcome that one little play.”
Central coach Bernie Cox gave Cabot credit, but was very displeased with the way his team was handled on the front line.
“We were able to break a couple of plays and score just enough to win, but we didn’t do the things we worked on all week, and that’s a concern,” Cox said. “Cabot controlled the line. It makes you wonder about our preparation and if we’re doing the things it takes to win games down the line.”
Trailing 14-6, Cabot took possession on its own 27 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. After a false start penalty, the fifth of the game against Cabot, the Panthers started its third impressive drive of the game. They failed to get a first down in three plays after the penalty, but a daring fake punt on fourth and 6 from their own 33 worked perfectly. The direct snap went to up-back Vince Aguilar, who was initially hit about a yard short of the first, but kept his balance and picked up several more yards to the 43. Another 15 yards was tacked on for a personal foul at the end of the play, giving Cabot first down at the Central 42.
From there the drive was easy. The Panthers bit chunks of yards at a time before Colin Fuller scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:24 left in the game. The Cabot defense came up big on Central’s next drive. Stopping quarterback Randy Rankin on fourth and inches on the Cabot 19 with 2:!4 to go, but Cabot quarterback Cory Wade threw an interception on the next play, and Central ran out the clock.
Cabot got the first break of the game when Central receiver Genessis Cole lost the ball in the open field on a reverse on the Tigers’ opening drive. Cabot’s Raul Gault covered at the Panther 38. Cabot went on a long drive that took the ball to the Central 11, but a false start penalty on first down made it first and 15. After picking up 8 yards on two plays, the Panthers were called for holding that moved it back to the 20. The drive ended with #35 missing a 36-yard field goal attempt with 2:02 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers forced a three and out after the miss, but Central’s Rob James boomed a 52-yard punt that pinned Cabot on its own 18 to start the next drive.
The big kick only meant it would take longer for Cabot to score. The Panthers went on another long drive, with senior fullback Colin Fuller carrying the load. The Panthers drove 82 yards in 17 plays and used up nearly eight minutes of clock. The drive ended in an exciting way, with Fuller bulldozing in from 2 yards out on fourth and goal.
The extra point was low and blocked, leaving the score 6-0 with 4:49 left in the half. Central then put together its best drive of the game, and got a little luck to keep it alive. The Panthers had the drive stopped when a gang of defenders converged on Central quarterback Randy Rankin on third and five from the Cabot 36. But the pursuit over ran Rankin and left clear sailing for a 12-yard pickup and a first down.
It was on another third and long situation that Central eventually scored. On third and six, A 20-yard pass to the corner of the end zone was complete to Central tailback Charles Clay. Rankin simply lofted the ball high in the air for the 6-foot-3 Clay, who easily out-jumped 5-foot-7 defender Cory Wade for the touchdown. The extra point was good and put the Tigers up 7-6. That score held until intermission.
Cabot went for thye surprise on-side kick to start the second half. It caught Central off guard and Cabot covered, but Central was called off-side, wihich is a dead ball foul, and Cabot was forced to re-kick. The Tigers had already been administered a delay penalty after the band took too long to get off the field, and Cabot kicked the second time form the 50. They tried another on-side, but the ball didn’t travel 10 yards and Central started on its own 43.
From there Central got two first downs, but a high pass sailed over Rankins’ intended receiver and into the hands of Fuller.
That gave Cabot possession at its own 28, but the Panthers went three and out and punted back to Central. A good return was negated by a penalty, but it didn’t matter.
The big play bug bit Cabot again the next play. Clay went off right tackle for 80 yards and the score. The PAT made it 14-6 Central with 7:04 left in the third quarter. Central finished with 269 total yards while Cabot totaled 249.
Both team’s offenses were dominated by the big backs. Clay led everyone with 177 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. He also had the one catch for 20 yards and a score. Fuller led the Panthers with 35 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught one pass for 12 yards.
The Panthers, (4-3, 1-3) will host Bryant next Friday at Panther Stadium.