SPORTS>> Panthers stifle Bryant
Special to The Leader
Bryant’s best drive was its first, but it came up empty. Cabot didn’t blow the doors down on offense either, but the Panthers did enough to earn a 14-0 victory Friday night over the visiting Hornets and stay in the race for a 7A-Central conference championship.
The Cabot defense dominated the second half, especially at the line, while the offense scored once in each half to get the win.
“I thought coming into tonight that this was the best team we’ve faced all year,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They may not have the speed of some other teams, but they’ve got some good athletes and they play hard. They made it hard on us tonight.”
Cabot made it even harder on Bryant. Hornet quarterback Jimi Easterling was carried off the field late in the opening drive and didn’t return. Easterling’s injury came on the 15th play of the drive. Running back Chris Rycraw got five more yards on third and eight to set up a 20-yard field goal attempt, which was no good.
That drive went 72 yards. The Hornets gained just 61 yards the rest of the game, including just four total yards in the second half.
“Losing their quarterback definitely hurt them,” Malham said. “That opening drive ate up seven minutes off the clock. They got down there and we finally held them and they missed that field goal. That was big.”
Cabot didn’t pounce offensively after the big defensive stop. In fact, the two teams traded two three-play drives each before the Panthers finally put some offense together.
The Panthers went 85 yards for the score on their third drive after coming out of the Dead T. Cabot split two wide to one side with one running back and often included the tight end in the pass routes. Four eligible receivers is not a common practice for Cabot, but they stayed in the formation throughout the drive. Quarterback Seth Bloomberg went four-for-four passing on the drive. The last completion went for 8 yards to Hunter Hess and set up first and goal at the 1-yard line. From there, fullback Michael James scored with 4:31 left in the second quarter to put Cabot up for good.
Bryant put together a 50-yard drive and got to the Cabot 38-yard line before a sack by Jay Turpin created third and 16 and effectively disrupted Bryant’s momentum.
The sack at the end of the first half was a foreshadowing of the entire second half. A half that saw Bryant run 12 plays in four drives. That’s four, three-and-out series that totaled four yards for the whole half. Cabot’s front four of Turpin, Kyle Deblock, T.J. Bertrand and Cody Myers bulldozed Bryant’s offensive line the entire half, getting three more sacks along the way.
Rycraw, who had 58 yards on his first 11 carries, finished with 22 carries for 77 yards. He rushed four times for nine yards in the second half.
“Our defense did a great job in the second half,” Malham said. “(Rycraw) is a great running back. Boy the first drive we couldn’t find him, but we put a clamp on him in the second half. We got good pressure on the quarterback. It probably helped that they didn’t have their starting quarterback, but our defense was probably part of the reason they couldn’t get anything.”
Cabot’s offense sputtered to start the second half, and 36 yards on 11 plays for naught on its second drive. Finally, again on the third possession of the half, the Panthers put it together and marched 69 yards for a score.
The drive was kept alive by the passing game. The Panthers went back to the Dead T in the second half, but pulled out more spread formation at times. One of those times just after a rash of penalties threatened to stall the drive. Facing third and 18 from the Bryant 40, Bloomberg rolled left and found receiver Justin Wortman open downfield for a 35-yard pick-up to make it first and goal. Halfback Wesley Sowell picked up four on first down, and James punched it in from the 1 to give the Panthers some cushion.
Bloomberg led Cabot offensively. He rushed twice for nine yards, and completed seven of 10 pass attempts for 90 yards.
James carried 26 times for 84 yards and Wortman was the game’s leading receiver with two catches for 52 yards. Cabot finished with 231 total yards.
The Panthers improve to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play. They stay a game behind undefeated Russellville, who beat Catholic 17-10 last night. Cabot travels to Van Buren next week. Bryant fell to 5-3 and 2-3 in league play. They will host North Little Rock.