SPORTS >> Panthers dragged through mud
Leader sports editor
Bryant threw a little mud on Cabot’s perfect record Friday night.
The Panthers, ranked No. 1 or 2 in most statewide polls, wandered onto the muck at Hornets Stadium and suffered a 35-7, 7A-Central Conference defeat before a near capacity crowd.
Bryant’s all-state running back Chris Rycraw ran wild on the slick field while Cabot, which plays on an artificial surface, couldn’t get much traction or many points in its first loss of the year. Rycraw finished with 188 yards and four touchdowns in an offense so explosive the scoreboard apparently couldn’t handle it and went blank in the second quarter with the Hornets already leading 28-0.
“We worked for this,” Bryant coach Paul Calley said. “It’s very gratifying.”
“They out-coached us, they outplayed us,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They out-everythinged us tonight, there’s no doubt about that.”
Cabot’s loss arranged at least a two-way tie in the 7A-Central between the Panthers (7-1, 4-1) and Hornets (7-1, 4-1), while Conway and Little Rock Catholic, Cabot’s victims earlier this season, started the night with 3-1 conference records.
“It’s a loss but it’s not the season,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We’re still tied with them. I don’t know how the other games came out tonight. There could be four teams at 4-1 after tonight. We’ve just got regroup and come back.
“We still control our destiny but hats off to Bryant.”
Heavy rains and a Thursday night junior high game left the field in such poor condition that a pair of hovering helicopters were used to try to air dry it, along with 100 bags of field dry and 40 bags of oil dry.
That appeared to help the Hornets more than it did the Panthers.
Bryant scored on a kickoff return to open the game, immediately recovered an onside kick leading to another score, and took advantage of excellent field position on a botched Cabot punt to ring up another touchdown in taking a 28-0 halftime lead.
Rycraw — who last year set school records in rushing yards (1,514), attempts (284) and touchdowns (17) — was by far the difference, accounting for close to half of Bryant’s 370 total yards.
“I knew they would have trouble tackling him in the open field,” Calley said. “And of course their footing wasn’t good either. He was just superb tonight.”
“We never slowed him down the first half,” Malham said. “They play on grass. I don’t know, they may have better cleats than us, who knows? That can happen. Sometimes it snowballs and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Cabot managed 193 yards and didn’t score its lone touchdown until Matt Bayles ran 23 yards for a touchdown on a straight handoff with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
“We weren’t in it from the word go,” Malham said.
Bryant’s Brady Butler took the opening kickoff up the left sideline, got a block and ran untouched to the end zone for the game’s first score, and seconds later Sammill Watson fell on Jace Denker’s onside kick near the Cabot bench to give the Hornets possession at the Panthers 42 with just 17 seconds elapsed.
Five plays later Rycraw turned in a 23-yard broken field run to make it 14-0 with 8:57 left, and the Hornets had already exceeded the Panthers average of 8.9 points allowed per game.
Cabot was forced to punt and Bryant then turned in a Cabot-style drive, going 75 yards in 14 plays and scoring on Rycraw’s 9-yard run that made it 21-0 with 10:56 left in the half. The longest gains of the drive came on two 11-yard runs by Rycraw.
Cabot got its biggest play of the half when quarterback Seth Bloomberg kept for 15 yards on the next drive, but the Panthers were forced to punt, the snap sailed over Matt Bayles’ head and Bryant got the ball at the Cabot 15.
Rycraw ran for 14 yards and scored on a 1-yard run for the 28-0 lead with 8:04 left.
That capped the scoring for the half, which was good because with just over five minutes left, power went out to the scoreboard and the home side press box.
The Panthers reached the Bryant 20 late in the half, but the drive ended when Blake Heil and Josh Hampton sacked Bloomberg on fourth down.
Rycraw added a 1-yard run to cap a 70-yard Hornets drive with 5:58 left in the third quarter.
Playing from behind and forced to throw more, Cabot got away from using leading rusher Spencer Smith, who hardly touched the ball in the first half but got a 35-yard gain in the second.
“Everything got out synch,” Malham said. “Some of the stuff we did he wasn’t involved with. He played more in the second half but when things are going like that things get out of synch and there’s no continuity there.”
Cabot will return for its final home game of the regular season against Van Buren (1-7, 1-4) next week.