Leader Blues

Saturday, October 17, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot tops Central

By CHAD MATCHETT
Special to The Leader

The two winningest active coaches met for the last time Friday night in Cabot, with Mike Malham and the Panthers getting the best of Bernie Cox and Little Rock Central 28-6.

It was the Panthers’ third consecutive victory over the Tigers.

“We’ve had some good battles over the years,” Malham said. “He’s had some good runs with some really good teams, but we’ve had them the past couple of years.”

Cox currently has 271 victories, but his Tigers’ losing streak is now at 18 games, and Cox, 65, recently announced he would be retiring after the season.

Cabot (7-0, 4-0 7A-Central) was never in real danger, but didn’t make it easy on itself.

The Panthers fumbled twice in each half, including a turnover by Spencer Smith near the goal line and one by Michael James after a long run.

Smith’s fumble came after a 23-yard run, while James’ came at the end of a 39-yard gain.

“All the fumbles and we had some stupid penalties to go along with it and this was a pretty sloppy game,” Malham said. “But we were still able to get the win and that’s the main thing.”

The fumbles cost the Panthers a shot at a victory by mercy rule, when the clock runs almost continually after a second-half lead of 35 points or more.

It would have been the first by Malham against Cox. The only time Malham’s Panthers have suffered a mercy rule loss came in 2004 when the Tigers got the best of them 35-0.

Overall, Malham is 6-8 against Cox’s Tigers.

“Our guys really competed well and maybe we can build on that these next couple of weeks,” Cox, in his 35th season, said.

“That’s a real good Cabot team. They’ve got a good chance to go all the way.”

Central (0-7, 0-4) was held to just 48 yards in the first half, but found an offensive spark in Chris Johnson in the second half.

Johnson had seven carries for 104 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers, all in the second half. Despite Johnson’s second-half heroics, the Tigers were still held under 200 yards of offense.

Cabot’s Michael James, who has missed much of this year with injuries, expanded on his first extended outing of the season last week by leading the Panthers with 17 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith added 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“Cabot always controls the ball on offense and frustrates you and that’s what they did tonight,” Cox said. “Coach Malham and all of his assistants do such a great job here. Mike is a great person and a great coach. He never has a bunch of guys who sign scholarships and play in college, but he takes what he has and does the absolute best possible with those kids.”

Cox’s retirement not only leaves Malham as the active coach with the most victories, but also as the longest tenured active coach at one school, along with Harrison’s Tommie Tice.

“Central played with a lot of heart tonight, but we didn’t expect anything less from one of Bernie’s teams,” Malham said. “His kids always come out and play hard and then are the first ones to shake your hand and tell you good game when it is over.

“They’re very polite kids. We’re going to miss Bernie and the way he coaches his teams.”

Cabot’s biggest victory over Central was 35-8 in the 1997 playoffs.

Central’s biggest victory over Cabot was 35-0 in a non-conference game in 2004, a state championship year for the Tigers.

This year’s Cabot victory kept the Panthers in command in their drive to claim the No. 1 seed in the 7A-Central with three regular season games to go.

Cabot had one conference loss to Little Rock Catholic last year but won the 7A-Central and a first-round bye, only to fall in its first game, 21-17 to Springdale Har-Ber at Panther Stadium.