Leader Blues

Saturday, September 13, 2008

SPORTS>>Panther D clamps Bears

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills ground game that was so proficient in Week 1 against Malvern not only came to a halt, it literally retreated on Friday at Cabot.

The Cabot defense put an absolute clampdown on the Bear running game on Friday night, allowing the Panthers to overcome a shaky offensive performance in a 24-0 win.

After rushing for more than 200 yards against Malvern, Sylvan Hills went backwards against Cabot, rushing for minus 24 yards on 20 carries, many the result of errant snaps.

“The defense is really playing good,” said Cabot head coach Mike Malham, whose Panthers improved to 2-0. “We got ends and backers that can run and we’ve got guys in the secondary that can run. But the offense didn’t look very good tonight.”

The smaller Bears were able to keep the Panther running attack in check almost the entire night, despite having little depth on a humid night. Cabot ground its way to 208 yards on the ground, but they came grudgingly against a Sylvan Hills defense led by Juliean Broner, Lawrence Hodges and Nick Brewer.

They held fullback Michael James to just 73 yards on 24 carries and Chris Bayles to 75 on 15 totes.

“The defense played real well,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “Our defensive coordinator had some great schemes. The kids up front played well and gave us a chance to win and that’s wall we wanted. But the offense just had too many miscues.”

Cabot’s defense deserves much of the credit for Sylvan Hills’ 54 yards of total offense. Led by the fierce rush of Nick McTague, Jared Maxwell and company, the front line was in quarterback Jordan Spears’ face all night and he spent most of the evening on the turf. But a series of bad snaps resulted in half a dozen big losses that dug the Bears’ hole even deeper. One of those led to Cabot’s first points when a snap to Broner went over his head and he covered it in the end zone as the Panthers took a 2-0 lead with 5:08 left in the opening period.

The Panthers had only two sustained drives all night after going three-and-out on their first three possessions. The first of those drives — 11 plays, 63 yards, 4:38 off the clock — led to James’ 2-yard touchdown run and a 9-0 lead at the 8:08 mark of the second period.

Sylvan Hills caught a break when Blake Rasdon recovered a Spencer Neumann fumble on a punt return at the Bears 44. But Neumann made up for it two plays later when he knocked the ball loose from Spears and Maxwell pounced on it at the Sylvan Hills 48.

Barry Bir got it back for the Bears with an interception when he took the ball out of Neumann’s hands, but the Bears once again were unable to move it and went to the locker room trailing 9-0.

It didn’t take long after intermission for the Bears to hand the Panthers another gift when a high snap went through Spears’ hands and Brock Bunting fell on it in the end zone for the touchdown. James’ 2-point run made it 17-0 just 1:53 into the second half.

Cabot put it away with a 20-play drive that consumed 9:15 and ended in a 5-yard touchdown run by James with 7:05 left in the game.

Of eight official running plays by the Bears in the second half, seven went for losses. Overall 13 of their 20 rushes went for negative yardage. Spears completed 13-of-30 with one interception by Nathan Byrnes in the closing minutes of the game. Of his 78 yards through the air, 46 went to Ahmad Scott, who caught seven passes.

“Their defense always plays well,” Withrow said. “They hit you hard and get after you and they have great schemes. They’re going to make you beat them by dinking them. They’re not going to give you the deep ball.

“But it was so uncharacteristic of our center (to make bad snaps). We executed well in practice all week and I thought we’d play well.”

For Malham, the concern is over the offensive line, which struggled to open up much of anything all night against the smaller defensive front of Sylvan Hills.

“We punted more tonight than I can remember punting in a long time,” he said. “They did a great job on defense. They took it to us and got after it. We weren’t blocking good and weren’t running very hard and they were beating us to the punch is what they were doing.

“We have most of our offensive linemen back from last year, but we’re not near as good as last year so far.”

Withrow said there was a lot the Bears could take from the loss, despite the dismal offensive performance.

“I thought our inexperience showed at times,” he said. “But our effort and toughness, man we grew up tonight a lot. I was really proud of them.”

He was especially complimentary of Hodges and Broner, two players who mixed it up all night on both sides of the ball. When Broner and Hodgers weren’t trying to escape Cabot defenders, they were trying to keep rushers away from Spears.

“Juju (Broner) is growing up, not only as a player but as a person,” Withrow said. “He and Hodges block about as well as two backs can block and you don’t get that in high school very often.”

Cabot hosts Little Rock Hall next Friday, while Sylvan Hills (1-1) travels to North Little Rock.