Game photos can be viewed here https://www.sterlingimageworksgallery.com/p544367443
Both teams representing the 7A Central last played in a final four match-up in 2013 and it came down to the final play in what was arguably the most controversial play of the season that Cabot was able to survive and eventually made it to the title game.
The North Little Rock and Cabot rivalry added another chapter to the book on Friday night as the pass heavy #4 Panthers traveled to Wildcat stadium to square off against the rushing attack of the 2nd-ranked Wildcats with a state title berth on the line.
North Little Rock was looking to make it to their 5th straight championship appearance, winning it all in 2017.
Both defenses stood tall on the front end of the first quarter with a couple of defensive stops, but the Wildcats were able to end the drought with four minutes remaining in the 1st when quarterback Kareame Cotton found Flex Wade in end zone for the game’s first score.
Cabot responded right back on the first play of the second quarter when quarterback Tyler Gee connected with Braden Jay for a 29-yard score to tie it up.
NLR wasted no time as they came out with a couple of running plays, and then went to the air that proved to be a great decision when Cotton saw his guy wide open for an easy 80-yard score to take a 14-7 lead.
Cabot came right back. Gee led a brilliant drive with plays of 34 & 35 yards and he added the exclamation point with a 1-yard QB sneak tie it at 14.
The Wildcats would not be denied another touchdown despite a one being called back, started by Fred O’Donald who took the hand off at the 15 getting all the way to the 1 and Cotton finished it connecting with Vaughn Phillips on a 1-yard score from a play-action pass w/ 6:47 left.
Cabot had a penalty of their own the first play of the following drive, but it didn’t matter. Gee hit Kyler Carmack on a short pass and Carmack turned on the burners for 91 yards becoming Cabot’s all-time leading receiver along the way. Tied at 21 w/ 6:16 left in the half.
The Panthers decided to settle for a short field goal with just a few minutes left in the half but it dinged off of the left post giving NLR the ball back.
Cotton led the Wildcats inside the Cabot 10, but was intercepted in the end zone. The Panthers were able to get a few plays off, but did not have enough time to get anything going before the first half expired.
“We’ve been talking for the last couple of weeks about having a good second half,” North Little Rock Head Coach JR Eldridge said. “We felt like we haven’t particularly been a good third quarter team, we knew it would be 0-0 and had to win the second half.”
The beginning of the second half looked promising for NLR when they took the kickoff to the Panther 24, but came up empty.
It was mostly defense until the final two minutes when Torrence Moore swung the lead back in NLR’s favor darting for the stouchdown from 16 yards out.
There was some jawing, shoving, and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the next Cabot drive, but it was the Panthers who got the last laugh.
Gee fumbled the snap, but was able to pick it up and throw to a wide open Jay once again tying the game, this time at 28 with just seconds left in the third quarter.
Deju vu continued, NLR responded thanks to a rollout left by Cotton stretching into the end zone giving us the first points of the 4th quarter and a 35-28 Wildcat lead.
On what was the biggest play of the game for Cabot at the time Gee was picked off by Zaylon Robinson, but Cabot got the ball back when Jay forced a fumble then recovered giving the Panthers 1st and goal from the Wildcat 4. Two plays later, Carmack secured another tie catching the touchdown from Gee.
Cotton had a 9-yard score and Cabot’s Jacob Parks responded to give us our final tie at 42, but with 1:32 remaining that was plenty of time for NLR to get one last score and get back to state.
Nine plays later, Cotton took off breaking tackles for 32 of his 88 yards stretching the ball over the right pylon with just :17 left giving NLR a 49-42 lead that would seal the game.
“Shocking man, nerve racking really,” Cotton said of scoring the winning touchdown. “Just knowing I did what I could to help this team win.”
Cotton’s final stat line included 448 total yards and 6 touchdowns.
“Kareame, I just felt like he took it to another level tonight,” Eldridge mentioned. “He did some great things in the first half, but the second he just took over and made some huge plays down the stretch.”
During these times nothing is ever set in stone but in a season where we were not sure if we would make it to the finish line, all signs lead to us at least getting a 6 and 7A title game. Eldridge is most grateful for that:
“I’m just so thankful. Thankful that we got to play this season, thankful we got to play this game, I’m so thankful for these coaches and players,” he stated. “They just showed so much heart tonight.”
In their second season under Coach Scott Reed, Cabot finished the year 8-4 (2-3), and North Little Rock improves to 12-1 (5-1) as they will play #1 Bryant for the state championship next week at War Memorial Stadium.
Article published by Kyle Sutherland, @k_sutherlandHTP on Twitter