SPORTS>> Cabot falls short
Special to The Leader
The Cabot Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage on first and second down Friday night against the Springdale Har-Ber Wildcats, but third down was all the visitors needed to win the game.
The 7A-West No. 2 seed converted three third-down and 10’s on its last drive of the game, a drive that put Har-Ber up for the first time in the game at 21-17 with 3:19 to go. Cabot threatened on the ensuing drive, but the Wildcats held the Panthers out of the end zone to advance to the semifinals of the playoffs. Cabot finished the season 9-2.
The Panthers took possession with 3:11 on the clock and promptly drove from its down 36 all the way down to the Wildcat 6-yard line. On first and goal with just over a minute remaining, an option pitch fell to the ground. Cabot covered, but it was an 11-yard loss and Cabot was forced to the air. On the very next play, Har-Ber’s Russell Reynerson intercepted a Seth Bloomberg pass at the goal line to seal the Wildcat victory.
Cabot coach Mike Malham gave Har-Ber its due credit for its final drive.
“They made some big plays when they had to have them,” Malham said. “That’s really all you can say. You just got to hand it to them.”
Har-Ber converted 7 of 9 third downs in the second half, and was 1 of 2 on fourth down. On their game-winning drive, the Wildcats hit passes for 21, 12 and 14 yards on three consecutive third and 10 situations. The final pass made it first and goal at the 1-yard line. From there, senior tailback Derek Binker plunged it in to put his team up.
Cabot took a 17-7 lead into halftime. Har-Ber cut a 10-0 deficit to 10-7 with 33 seconds left in the half, but the Panthers went 74 yards in five plays and scored on the last play of the half to go back up by 10. Sixty-eight of those yards came on an updated version of the now outlawed guard-around. This time it was halfback Wesley Sowell who was left alone for the big gain to the Har-Ber 6. It took three more plays, but on fourth and goal, junior fullback Michael James got the final yard for the score.
Cabot got it back to start the second half, but went three and out after a costly penalty. Sowell avoided major disaster when he chased down a high punt snap that sailed over his head to get the punt off, but Har-ber scored anyway.
The Wildcats converted three straight third downs on the scoring drive. When faced with third and 21 from the Cabot 34, a pass fell incomplete. In four-down territory, Har-Ber not only converted a first down on fourth and 21, quarterback Zach Faust found Josh McKinney for the score. The extra point made it 17-14 with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers got inside the Wildcat 20 on each of its last three possessions, but came away empty each time. The first ended when Sowell was stopped inches short on fourth and 2. The second drive ended at the 20-yard line with a fumble on third and five.
Har-Ber coach Chris Wood was proud of his team and complimentary of the Panthers.
“We had to work awful hard to get into the end zone because of the way Cabot played us,” Wood said. “I thought they did a great job. It’s probably the best defense we’ve seen all year. They’re very physical against the run. They hit our quarterback more than he’s ever been hit, but we were able to make plays.”
Cabot totaled 294 yards while Har-Ber finished with 337. Faust hit 17 of 28 pass attempts for 321 yards and two touchdowns.
McKinney led the way receiving with nine catches for 145 yards and one touchdown. James led Cabot’s ground attack with 112 yards and two scores on 24 carries.