Leader Blues

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot rolls on

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers beat the Conway Wampus Cats 38-21 on Friday night, though outlasted might be a better word.

The Panthers rolled to a 24-point lead in the 7A-Central Conference opener, but with Conway in hurry-up mode for most of the second half the lead dwindled and Cabot was left a little gassed by the end.

“They’re getting better every week,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I’m glad we got them now and not Week 10.”

Seth Bloomberg completed a 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Conner Hamilton to make it 31-7 with 8:24 left in the game, but behind quarterback Xavier Acklin, the Wampus Cats were far from finished.

Acklin had a tackle-breaking, 30-yard run, kept for 11 yards and had three completions on a drive capped by Seth Bell’s 22-yard run that made it 31-14 with 6:16 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers went up 38-14 when leading rusher Spencer Smith went up the middle on a 43-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but Conway came back with Acklin’s 12-yard scoring run then recovered the onside kick with 6:24 left in the game.

But Logan Spry intercepted Acklin at the 1, allowing Cabot to run some clock before it was forced to punt with 1:48 left, and Conway’s final drive dissolved in three straight incompletions.

Spry, who kicked a 38-yard field goal in the first half, had Cabot’s second touchdown-saving interception. Joe Bryant picked off Acklin in the end zone during the second quarter.

“I’ll tell you what, they ran a hurry-up mode and got our defense a little tired there,” Malham said. “They did a good job offensively. They really did.”

Malham expected Conway, who has played Bentonville and Fort Smith Southside and scrimmaged Fort Smith Northside, to give the Panthers (4-0, 1-0) their first true test of the season and the Wampus Cats, behind Acklin, didn’t let him down.

Acklin rushed for 173 yards, many of them scrambles out of the pocket, and one touchdown and he passed for 140 yards and another score.

“They didn’t quit. They made a game out of it and it was a pretty good ballgame I thought,” Malham said.

But Cabot had the ground game to keep the ball out of Conway’s hands and keep the Panthers one step ahead.

Smith finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns while Bloomberg gained 73 yards, scored twice and passed for another touchdown. Matt Bayles finished with 78 yards and Jeremy Berry had 52.

“They stuffed it in the middle and we had to go outside more than I like on the option,” Malham said.

Cabot, which thrives on its Dead T offense, also uncorked the rare passing effort as Bloomberg went 5 for 5 for 73 yards.

“That’s something that we work on and we save it,” Malham said. “We’ve got to throw a little bit and we work on it probably as much as we do running, but I like it when we move it on the ground. We complete a lot more handoffs than we do passes.”

Conway netted 0 yards on its game-opening possession and after the punt Cabot drove from its 43 and scored on Smith’s 1-yard run with 4:51 left in the first quarter. Hunter Sales slipped a tackle for a 12-yard gain on the drive and Conway gave up two first downs on offsides penalties, the second to bring up first and goal at the 5.

Conway got a 16-yard completion from Acklin to Chase Calcagni on its next possession, but still wound up punting to set up Cabot’s next score. The Panthers were forced to settle for Spry’s 38-yard field goal with 9:39 left in the half, but the possession featured a diving, 33-yard sideline reception by Joe Bryant, who kept his feet in bounds for a first down at the

Conway 41 and brought the near-capacity crowd to its feet.

A sack and illegal forward pass that came when Acklin crossed the line of scrimmage doomed Conway’s next drive, and after the punt the Panthers started at the Wampus Cats 49 and marched for Bloomberg’s 1-yard sneak that made it 17-0 with 4:25 remaining in the half.