SPORTS >> One down for Cabot
By JASON KING
Mark down a playoff victory for the seniors — at long last.
The Cabot Panthers advanced to the semifinal round of the Class 7A state playoffs, routing Conway 38-7 on Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Cabot will host Springdale Har-Ber next week after Har-Ber beat Russellville 30-7 to set up a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal opponents. Har-Ber has knocked Cabot (10-1) out of the playoffs the past two seasons, making Friday’s triumph over the Wampus Cats (5-7) the first playoff victory for the Cabot seniors.
“I got on them a little bit,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said. “I told them they were pretty good at winning nine games; let’s see if we can get 10 this time. It’s about time we won 10 games. We’re tickled to get the win, and we get to keep playing.”
The Cabot offense stayed true to form, grinding out the rushing yards, eating time off the clock and methodically moving the chains. The Panthers’ time of possession was 34:50 and they had 304 total yards while holding Conway to 143.
“It’s great to win conference championships, but that’s only our first goal,” Panthers senior quarterback Seth Bloomberg said. “We wanted to get a playoff win, so this is a big victory for us.”
Michael James rushed for two touchdowns in the first half, Bloomberg completed a long scoring pass to Spencer Neumann and Logan Spry kicked a 22-yard field goal as Cabot took a 24-7 halftime lead and hardly looked back.
Cabot senior defensive back Joe Bryant provided an exclamation mark with two interceptions in the third quarter to put the game out of Conway’s reach.
Bryant intercepted Xavier Acklin’s pass with 3:58 left in the quarter and took it 75 yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers up 38-7, following Logan Spry’s fifth successful extra-point kick. Bryant intercepted Acklin again on the next play from scrimmage at the Conway 27.
The Panthers’ first drive of the game held few surprises.
Cabot went 58 yards in 15 plays and ate 7:27 off the clock to take an early 7-0 lead. James carried nine times for 32 yards during the drive and on fourth and goal he went over the top for 1 yard and the score with 3:45 left in the first quarter.
The next drive took considerably less time, as Bloomberg hit Neumann for a 41-yard touchdown pass on second and 9 after a 1-yard rush by Bloomberg started the drive. That gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 2:01 left in the quarter.
James took a pitchout to the right and scored again on a 12-yard run with 10:24 to go in the first half. Junior Jeremy Berry set up the score, Cabot’s third in as many possessions, with a 37-yard run on a reverse fake to James from the Conway 49.
The Wampus Cats finally got something going in the final two minutes of the half. Conway went 80 yards on eight plays, and survived having a touchdown pass called back on a motion penalty, to get on the scoreboard with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Acklin to Jalen Rose with 7 seconds left. Ben Riner added the extra point to set the halftime margin at 24-7.
Cabot had attempted to put the game out of reach by opening up the passing game late in the half but punted to set Conway up at its own 20 with 1:44 left in the half.
“Right before the half I thought, ‘What did I do?’ ” Malham said. “We gave them some momentum right there at the half when we probably should have ate up the clock. But the defense came back out and had those two picks and took one of them to the house.”
Cabot’s only offensive score in the second half was the result of a 13-play, 54-yard drive that started the third quarter. Senior halfback Matt Bayles plunged the final 7 yards on two carries, punching through from 1 yard out on his second attempt with 5:41 left in the quarter put the Panthers up 31-7.
With a playoff victory finally under their belts, the Panthers can focus on revenge next week. Springdale Har-Ber edged Cabot 21-17 at Panther Stadium in a thrilling, but disappointing end for Bloomberg and the Panthers last year.
“That’s going to be a great game, and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” Bloomberg said. “We’re going to play with a lot of emotion in that one.”