7A West 5-seed Springdale Har-Ber traveled to Panther Stadium Friday night to square off against the 5-seeded Cabot Panthers. Both teams have put up great numbers offensively, but have struggled to find answers on the opposite end of the field. It was the Panther defense-led up front by Harding commits Justin Sobczak, Jose Lopez, and Eric Masterson- that stepped up big and held the Wildcats to 111 total yards (-2 rushing).
“Our defense has gotten better and better,” Cabot Head Coach Scott Reed said. “Early in the game they hit us on some of the quick screens to the wide outs, but we adjusted and after that I thought our defense was just tremendous.”
Both defenses got off the field before surrendering any points on the first possessions, but Cabot got rolling following a fumble recovery by Caden Mimms after Har-Ber quarterback Luke Buchannan lost the ball on a QB Draw giving the Panthers possession at midfield. Five plays later, Mr. Do-It-All skill player Braden Jay took a 24-yard sweep right to put the game’s first points on the board making it 7-0 Panthers after the extra point with 6:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Cabot dominated the next Har-Ber drive fueled by Lopez, who had two sacks for a total of eleven yards lost forcing the Wildcats to give the ball back. Cabot wasted no time with running back Mason Bell scoring from eight yards out to lead 14-0, who did the bulk of the work on that series with 29 yards on the ground.
After a failed 4th down conversion, Har-Ber looked to gain some momentum back when Cabot lined up to punt on 4th & 8, but back-to-back offsides penalties soured any chance of that. The Panthers made good use of those mistakes finishing the drive with Jay taking a direct snap and running left untouched for his second score of the night. The extra point was botched, but Cabot still had a 20-0 lead.
The Wildcats finally got a break four plays into the next series when Buchannan found Peyton McKee down the left sideline resulting in a 41-yard gain. McClendon put the finishing touches on it, pushing in on a left end around cutting into the Panther lead 20-7 with 7:34 left in the 1st half.
Some new names got involved in the scoring soon after, back-up quarterback Abe Owen threw a 13-yard dart to Ashton Shurley extending Cabot’s lead 26-7 with 4:40 left before halftime. Har-Ber followed with a three and out, then Jay clinched the hat trick with a 47-yard end around to put Cabot up by a dominating score of 33-7. They weren’t done yet after getting the ball back once more, settling for a 29-yard field goal from Josh Garcia to take a 36-7 lead into the break.
The Panthers got one more quick score to begin the second half that took all of 1:44 with Owen earning a tough rushing touchdown from ten yards out that would officially enact the mercy rule. The back-ups took over from there to get some valuable reps. Garcia connected on another field goal from 26 yards and and running back Owen Horn put the final points on the board with 5:25 remaining for Cabot to prevail to a dominating 53-7 victory.
Har-Ber’s season comes to a close finishing with a disappointing 3-7 (3-4) record after being picked by Hooten’s Arkansas Football as the 2nd-ranked preseason team in 7A West.
With the victory, Cabot will travel to Fayetteville (8-2, 7-0) next week in the second round. The Purple Dogs won their first outright conference title since 1963. The Panthers have an upset on their mind after traveling to Northwest Arkansas last season upsetting Bentonville 38-34 after being down by a big margin. Reed feels very confident his team is in good position to go up there, play well, and possibly pull off another upset.
“Our guys know how to go on the road and play a big game,” Reed mentioned. “We were down pretty big (against Bentonville) last year. One difference is last season we were explosive offensively and this year we’ve become more defensive-minded. Fayetteville is obviously very good, and they’re different. They will be able to stretch the field vertically and we will have to be able to handle it, but I think our team is getting better as the year goes along and we’re excited about next week.”
Article published by Kyle Sutherland, @k_sutherlandHTP on Twitter