Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot faces heartbreaker Har-Ber

Cabot linebacker/halfback Spencer Neumann
sheds a Conway tackler after a reception
in Friday’s playoff victory.


By TODD TRAUB

Leader sports editor

Does Cabot play anybody other than Springdale Har-Ber?

For the third straight year the Panthers face the Wildcats in the 7A playoffs and will be looking to avenge the losses that knocked Cabot out of the playoffs the past two seasons. The Panthers play the Wildcats at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium.

Even if Cabot, the 7A-Central Conference champion, reverses its fortunes against Har-Ber this week, the Panthers won’t be through with the Wildcats.

“We’ve played them the last two years, we play them this year and we’re going to play them again next year, third date,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They’re coming here next year.

“I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t find anybody any closer that would play us.”

Malham’s reluctance to play Har-Ber, the second seed from the 7A-West, is understandable after the consecutive playoff losses. In fact, thanks to Har-Ber, Cabot’s seniors hadn’t won a playoff game until last week’s 38-7 victory over Conway.

Malham said the 35-14 playoff loss to Har-Ber in 2007, part of Har-Ber’s run to the state championship game, simply came against a better team.

Last year was a different story. Cabot led until late in the game, and was poised to score the go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds when Har-Ber intercepted quarterback Seth Bloomberg to lock up its 21-17 victory.

“It was a good battle last year, a really even game,” Malham said. “We had the upper hand the whole game until right there at the end.”

Cabot had first and goal inside the 5 but a fumble forced the Panthers back to the 15, andBloomberg’s pass on a combination route to the left flat was short and Har-Ber picked it off with 53 seconds to go.

“They’re up there every year,” Malham said. “They’ve got a good program. We feel like our program is kind of on the same basis. We’ve been up there in good shape for years.

“It ought to be a good game. I hope we play as well as we did Friday and make it a good game.”

Against Conway, Cabot scored on its first four possessions, then, after giving up a 22-yard touchdown completion at the end of the first half, the Panthers re-established control with a scoring drive to open the second.

Joe Bryant all but wrapped it up with his interception and 75-yard return for the touchdown that made it 38-7 with 3:58 left in the third quarter, and Bryant added another interception on the next Conway play. The Wampus Cats never threatened again though they still had almost four minutes and another quarter to play.

“Everything went well from the get-go,” Malham said.

This week Cabot will have to contend with Har-Ber’s spread offense averaging 25.1 points a game, and which has outscored its opponents by an average 13.8.

“They’re going to throw deep, they’ve got a good running game,” Malham said. “They’re going to be balanced. The main thing we’ve got to do is shut down the run and not give them the easy ones over the top.”

Malham admitted he is still haunted by last year’s Har-Ber game. Bloomberg, a senior this year, had been shaken up several plays before the interception and was briefly replaced, and Malham sometimes wonders, with Bloomberg still a little woozy, if he should have left his backup in the game.

“There’s two or three losses in your career that you think, ‘Man,” Malham said. “They come back and eat at you a little bit and that’s one of them.”

As if to remind Cabot fans of last year’s disappointment, an early public-address announcement at Panther Stadium on Friday had Russellville, which Cabot had already beaten, leading Har-Ber by 10 points.

When the score was corrected later, cheers turned to groans, but at least the Panthers were busy giving the fans a show.

Michael James rushed 24 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns and needs 98 yards to break the 7A career rushing record of 3,696 yards set by Fort Smith Southside’s Daniel McGee from 2006-08.

Spencer Neumann had seven tackles to set a school career record with 311, and fullback Spencer Smith, who was slowed by a virus during the week, played late in the game and gained 7 yards to give him 1,005 for the season.

“We just like to do what we do best and that’s moving the chains,” Malham said.