SPORTS >> Panthers run over Bears
Leader sports writer
The Cabot Panthers and Sylvan Hills Bears were headed in the same direction on Friday. Unfortunately for the Bears, that direction was into their own red zone.
The Panthers dominated from kickoff to final buzzer in a 35-7, non-conference rout at Panther Stadium. Sylvan Hills (0-2) struggled with only 16 yards of offense in the first half and 50 for the entire game.
Moving the ball came a little easier for Cabot (2-0) with 236 yards in the first half and 342 for the game.
Cabot coach Mike Malham called off the dogs for good with 1:32 left in the third quarter when junior fullback Spencer Smith bulled his way from 1 yard out for his third touchdown to give the Panthers a 34-0 lead, and kicker Logan Spry made it 35-0 with his 10th consecutive extra point of the season.
“The offense did what it needed to do tonight,” Malham said. “That second group didn’t move the ball quite as good as the first group, but everything went like we hoped it would. They’re 5A and we’re 7A, so we have a few more kids to choose from. And coach [Jim] Withrow does a good job over there.
“They gave us fits last year, but they don’t have as much ammo as what they did last year.”
The Panthers held Sylvan Hills to minus 5 yards in six plays during the first quarter. That looked like it would be the team’s yardage for the first half until Bears senior Ahmad Scott ran the ball down the right side for 20 yards to end the second quarter.
The only positive in the game for Sylvan Hills was a fumbled fourth-quarter punt by Cabot that gave the Bears their best field position of the night. Sophomore Willie Johnson fell on the ball at the Cabot 43 and it was the first time all night Sylvan Hills found itself in Panther territory.
Senior quarterback Jordan Spears took advantage as he directed a five-play drive that netted the Bears’ only score.
Cabot already had the momentum at the end of the first quarter, and the addition of senior running back Michael James in the offensive backfield gave the Panther faithful more to cheer about.
James sat out the season opener last week against Jacksonville because a preseason shoulder injury, and saw limited time on offense and defense, as well as special teams coverage, Friday.
“James got some work tonight; Spencer looked good back there,” Malham said. “We’re pretty deep at running back. We’ve got six guys that are all capable. I wish we had a little more depth at the line. But everything is on course.”
The Panthers took the first possession of the game and lulled the Sylvan Hills defense to with seven straight running plays before unleashing a 31-yard touchdown pass from Seth Bloomberg to junior tight end Rod Quinn with 8:26 left in the first quarter.
Bloomberg set up the play with a convincing fake to Smith. The Bears defense bought the fake and clogged the middle to stop Smith, which allowed Bloomberg to roll back and air it out to a wide-open Quinn at the Sylvan Hills 3.
Spry added the extra point to make it 7-0.
Cabot struck again in the opening period with a six-play, 45-yard drive. Bloomberg took the ball inside the red zone on a 23-yard option keep up the middle for a first down at the Sylvan Hills 8.
From there, it took a 6-yard run by Jeremy Berry and a 2-yard run into the end zone by Hunter Sales to increase the Panthers’ lead to 14-0.
Smith finished out the half with a touchdown runs of 9 and yards, which brought the varsity offense’s playing time to an end as the Panthers wrapped up their scoring late in the third.
Sylvan Hills caught its break on the fumbled punt by Spencer Neumann with 5:40 left that set the Bears up inside Panther territory. Spears connected with Taylor Clark for a 10-yard pass play, and handled the rest from there with three rushes. His final run was an 8-yard keeper for the touchdown with 2:04 left.
Anwi Filat added the extra point for the final margin.
Neumann, a senior, spent little time on the sideline as he led the defense from his middle linebacker slot and also had three rushes in the second half for 20 yards.
Neumann was also on every special teams play, including punt returns. He had a 24-yard return in the third quarter in which he broke four tackles and cut across the field. His only miscues were a bobbled punt that still ended up in Cabot’s hands and his fumble that led to the Bears’ only score.
“He does so much for us,” Malham said. “He’s been returning punts for us since he was a sophomore, but maybe we should look at that because he’s on the field so much. He’s just a tremendous kid. He’s smart and a hard worker, and I wish we had a bunch just like him.”
Smith led all rushers with 15 carries for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Bloomberg was 3 of 3 passing for 50 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers finished with 14 first downs, while Sylvan Hills had, all in the second half.
Cabot will play at Little Rock Hall next week, while Sylvan Hills will be at North Little Rock.