Leader Blues

Saturday, November 28, 2009

SPORTS >> Har-Ber strikes again

Cabot senior linebacker Spencer Neumann, 15, tries to drag down Springdale Har-Ber wide receiver Kaleb Vaughn.

Logan Spry gave Cabot a late lead with his 25-yard field goal on Friday night.

Leader sports editor

This time it took Springdale Har-Ber 2 minutes and 35 seconds to turn Cabot’s cheers to tears.

Har-Ber quarterback Ryan Luther completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Nicholson with 24 seconds left as the Wildcats beat the Panthers 14-10 in the 7A state semifinals at Panther Stadium on Friday night.

“Out kids have been resilient all year,” Har-Ber coach Chris Wood said. “The target has been on their backs.”

Har-Ber will play Fort Smith Southside, which beat North Little Rock on Friday, for the state championship.

Cabot took a 10-7 lead when Logan Spry kicked a 25-yard field goal with 7:48 left in the game. The Panthers forced the Wildcats to punt and took over at their 23 with 6:25 left, but Cabot’s drive stalled at the 44 and the Panthers punted it back to set up Har-Ber’s winning possession.

“It was an even ballgame and it got down at the end and they made the play,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “That’s all you can say. They made the big play.”

It was the third straight year Har-Ber has knocked Cabot, the 7A-Central Conference champion, out of the playoffs. Har-Ber won decisively in 2007 and grabbed an end zone interception to stop what could have been a winning drive with 53 seconds left in the 21-17 victory at Panther Stadium last year.

“We think whoever won this game has a good chance to win it all,” Malham said. “We thought last year we had a good chance to win it all.”

The Wildcats never led until the end, but made good use of their final possession, which started at the 27 with 2:59 remaining.

Luther opened the drive with 23- and 12-yard completions to Kaleb Vaughn. Then the Wildcats overcame a false start penalty with three straight completions and a keeper by Luther to bring up second and 5 at the 19.

Luther then threaded his pass past Cabot defender Alex Bray and into Nicholson’s hands for the lead.

“He’s been outstanding for us all year,” Wood said of Nicholson.

“It looked like Bray was in a perfect spot,” Malham said. “I thought we were going to get an interception there or a knocked down pass.”

Cabot had possession at its 38 with 19 seconds and two timeouts left, but Spencer Neumann and Matt Bayles, who scored Cabot’s lone touchdown in the first half, couldn’t connect on a hook and lateral after Seth Bloomberg’s completion to Neumann. Justin Kissinger recovered the fumble near midfield for Har-Ber to lock up the victory.

“We’re going to miss them,” Malham said of his seniors. “We’ve got some back, but we’ve got some very good football players that are leaving us and I really thought we had a chance to go the distance with these guys. But it wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t work out.”

Neumann, who has a scholarship offer from Central Arkansas, finishes his career as Cabot’s all-time tackles leader, but his accomplishments, and those of his classmates, were little consolation Friday.

“Obviously it wasn’t enough,” Neumann said. “Up until that last drive I thought we played really solid. Usually we play good enough but it wasn’t meant to be tonight.”

Cabot’s Michael James rushed for an unofficial 98 yards to lead all rushers, which would just barely give him the 7A career record of 3,697 yards. Luther finished with 200 passing yards and two touchdowns.

“If we’re not moving the ball and moving the chains then it’s going to be a long night for us,” Malham said.

The Panthers scored first on a 67-yard drive beginning at the Wildcats’ 33 and ending when Matt Bayles plunged in from 3 yards out to make it 7-0 with 2:03 left.

Har-Ber responded with an 86-yard scoring drive capped by Luther’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Nicholson that tied it 7-7 with 5:13 left in the second quarter.