SPORTS>>Panthers stay unbeaten, beat Wampus Cats
For the Leader
CONWAY — The Conway Wampus Cats gave top-ranked Cabot a scare Friday night, but the Panthers used a little trickery to spark their 21-7 win at JohnMcConnell Stadium in the 7A-Central Conference opener for both teams.
With the teams tied at 7 in the third quarter, Cabot (4-0, 1-0), ranked No. 1 overall by the Associated Press, called a fake punt on a fourth-and-9 play at its own 47 to set up the go-ahead score. Michael James, who ran for 98 yards on 18 carries in the game, gained 37 yards on the fake to put the Panthers in the redzone.
Three plays later, Wesley Sowell found the end zone from 4 yards out, and Logan Spry’s PAT gave Cabot a 14-7 lead at the 5:43 mark in the third. From there, the Panthers held the advantage.
“That fake punt was the difference in the ballgame,” said Cats coach Kenny Smith, whose team fell to 0-4 over all and 0-1 in conference play. “We can feel at the end of the first half we had (the Panthers) grabbing for straws.”
That’s partly because Conway was able to keep Cabot at bay, for the most part, in the first half.
The Panthers were forced to punt on their first two possessions and then missed field-goal attempts of 28 and 27 yards on their next two, allowing the Cats to stay even with Cabot at halftime.
The fake-punt conversion, however, led to the beginning of Cabot’s 14 unanswered second-half points.
“We had good field position and decided to give it a try,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We got lucky, but we’re glad we got it to work.”
The Panthers also got their defense to work later on.
But Conway, trailing 14-7 and forced to punt on their first possession of the second half, showed the defensive muscle first.
The Cats stopped Cabot’s try on a fourth-and-5 conversion to regain possession.
Conway moved 11 yards on its first three plays, but Justin Wortman picked off a Chase Calcagni pass at the 40 and advanced and wasn’t tackled until he was two yards from the end zone. Two plays later, James scored, and Spry’s PAT gave the Panthers a two-touchdown lead with 9:04 left.
“Obviously, your defense fights so hard. They fought their guts out,” Smith said. “Then we throw a pick. That’s deflating.”
James’ touchdown run put the finishing touches on the Panthers’ 21 straight points, as the Cats struck first.
After the teams ended the first quarter scoreless, it didn’t take Conway long to capitalize on Cabot’s missed field-goal attempts. In fact, it took the Cats just under a minute to go 80 yards.
Calcagni hit Dakota Cornett for a 12-yard pass to start the drive.
Cornett then followed that with a 68-yard scamper down the right sideline two players later for a touchdown with 1:41 left in the first half. Ben Riner added the PAT to give Conway a brief 7-0 lead.
“Conway put up a good fight,” Malham said. “They made some plays. Nothing was easy.”
But Seth Bloomberg began the ensuing Panther drive with an 18-yard pass to Blake Carter. A 15-yard facemask penalty moved Cabot into Cats territory. Bloomberg followed with a 16-yard pass to Ben Wainwright, and five plays later, Bloomberg — who finished 8-of-9 passing for 103 yards — hit Wortman for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Spry added the PAT to tie the game with 39 seconds left before halftime to finish a somewhat unusual half for Cabot, which prides itself on a strong running game.
“We scored our first one through the air. Who would have thought that?,” Malham quipped.
However surprising that fact was, it helped the Panthers hold off the Cats. Smith, though, knows with the continued progress he’s seen each week, that’s not a trend that will necessarily last.
“One of these nights it’s going to happen,” Smith said of that elusive victory.
Cornett led the Cats in rushing with 66 yards on seven carries. Chris Bayles followed James’ running production with 62 yards on 20 carries for Cabot.
Cabot continues conference action next week at home against Little Rock Catholic.