Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot will have many cleats to fill next year

Quarterback Seth Bloomberg (8) is one of several key players Cabot must replace next season.

By TODD TRAUB

Leader sports editor

At least Cabot won a playoff game this year.

That may be little consolation to the Panthers as they head into the offseason, but it will have to do until the 2010 version of the team takes the field.

Springdale Har-Ber knocked Cabot out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year, beating the Panthers 14-10 on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left at Panther Stadium on Friday.

The loss followed Cabot’s second-round, 38-7 victory over Conway the previous week. It was the first playoff game the Panthers seniors had won, and now the group departs leaving several large holes in the roster for coach Mike Malham to fill.

“I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in losing a game you had won there until the end,” Malham said. “That’s just the way it goes. These seniors had a good career; they won 26 games in three years, which isn’t bad. Went to the playoffs all three years, two conference championships and a final four this year.

“But you can always look back and say it could have been a little better but that’s the way it goes.”

Among those scheduled to graduate in the spring are three-year starting quarterback Seth Bloomberg; linebacker Spencer Neumann, the school tackles leader; fullback Michael James, the unofficial all-time rushing leader in 7A; kicker/defensive back Logan Spry, who gave Cabot its 10-7 lead with a 25-yard field goal on Friday; defensive backs Joe Bryant and Alex Bray; halfbacks Matt Bayles and Hunter Sales; nose guard T.J. Bertrand and two-way linemen Jay Turpin, Taylor Wright, Jay Verkler, Cody Beeler, Cole Lockwood, Walt James and Robert Evans.

And that’s just a partial list.

“This is a good group of seniors,” Malham said. “Five or six of these kids have been starting for three years. We’re going to miss them.”

The Panthers have sophomores Hayden Faught, Robert Morris and Zach Craig listed at quarterback, along with junior Zach Brown. And it remains to be seen who will surface to contend for the job from the junior high ranks.

Cabot has several backs returning to run in the Panthers’ dead T offense, including fullback Spencer Smith, who rushed for over 1,000 yards while James was banged up at times this season, and halfback Jeremy Berry, who had significant playing time this year.

James missed the start of the season with a shoulder injury and missed further playing time because of a sprained ankle. But he became the workhorse late as Smith suffered an ankle injury of his own.

James entered the Har-Ber game needing 98 yards to surpass Fort Smith Southside’s Daniel McGee for the 7A career rushing record of 3,697 yards. Unofficial statistics gave James exactly 98 yards Friday and the official count was 102, which assured him of being the all-time leader.

“I think that got him there,” Malham said.

Neumann, who also saw time at halfback this year, surpassed the 307 tackles he needed for the all-time Cabot record in the first-round playoff game with Conway.

“It was a lot of fun and I’ll always remember this,” said Neumann, who said he was leaning toward accepting a scholarship offer from Central Arkansas. “It’s a blast. I just hate how it ended.”

The blot on Cabot’s regular season was a stunning, 35-7 loss in the mud at Bryant in Week 8, but the Panthers bounced back to trounce Van Buren 55-14, then won a back-and-forth season finale at Russellville 26-24 to take the 7A-Central and earn a first-round playoff bye.

The Panthers outscored their opponents an average 15 points. The offense averaged 27.5 points a game while the defense allowed an average 12.0.

Against Har-Ber, the Panthers allowed fewer than 50 yards rushing and showed a willingness to gamble with two fake punts, both unsuccessful but harmless.

“I didn’t call the perfect game. Nobody’s going to call the perfect game and nobody’s going to play the perfect game,” Malham said.

Spry was nursing a pulled quadriceps muscle and was replaced on kickoffs by Zach Wood, but he had no problems on his successful field goal attempt.

“He’s been clutch all year right there,” Malham said of Spry.

Cabot will be a spectator as Har-Ber plays Southside for the state championship, then the Panthers will get back to work as they prepare for next season.

“When you get down to the top four teams, the top eight teams, anybody can win it,” Malham said. “You’ve just got to play well at all times; you’ve got to have a little luck. I don’t know, it wasn’t meant to be.”