CABOT — Two fourth quarter touchdowns helped propel the Cabot Panthers to a 23-9 victory over the Conway Wampus Cats on a rainy Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Conway held a 9-7 lead entering the final period, but was unable to sustain a drive in the final 12 minutes.
“(Cabot) made the plays when they needed to, and we didn’t,” coach Clint Ashcraft said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
It was a war back-and-forth there, and then in the fourth quarter, they made some big plays and we couldn’t get them stopped. It just got away from us there at the end.”
Conway (2-1) looked poised to take control of the game early in the final quarter when senior defensive back Malik Clemons intercepted a Cabot pass, and returned it to the Panthers 34.
However, three short run plays and a false-start penalty left Conway with a 4th-and-11, which it failed to convert.
Over the next five minutes, Cabot (3-0) embarked on an 11-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Junior tailback Jack Whisker gave the Panthers the lead on a 2-yard touchdown run. A two-point conversion made Cabot’s lead 15-9 with 2:22 remaining.
“I think they kind of grinded us out there,” Ashcraft said. “I think with their offensive line, we couldn’t really get any penetration on them. They did a good job.”
Conway was unable to respond on its ensuing drive, returning the ball to Cabot at its 24 after failing to convert a 4th-and-19. Whisker sealed the win for Cabot on the final score of the night, a 13-yard touchdown run. Another two-point conversion gave the Panthers a 23-9 lead with 1:19 remaining.
Whisker finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Senior quarterback Kason Kimbrell added one touchdown and 102 yards on 14 carries as Cabot finished with 291 total offensive yards.
“I just think they did a good job of moving the line of scrimmage,” Ashcraft said of the Cabot offensive line. “They’ve got some huge offensive linemen and those guys did a good job. They deserve all the credit tonight. They outplayed us.”
Cabot showed its physical nature upfront from the beginning. The opening drive of the game, which consumed 7:39 of the first quarter, went 80 yards on 16 plays, all runs, for a touchdown.
Conway responded with its own 10-play, 60-yard touchdown drive as sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith scored from 2 yards out. Conway failed to convert the extra-point, which was derailed by a high snap, and Cabot maintained a 7-6 lead.
It would prove to be the final score of the first half that was accompanied by steady rain at Panther Stadium.
The Wampus Cats had two opportunities to turn Cabot turnovers into points in the second quarter — as the Conway defense forced two fumbles — but the offense was unable to capitalize.
After the second Panther fumble, Conway found itself at the Cabot 9, with no timeouts left — just before halftime with a chance to score, and take the lead into the half. However, an error from sophomore D.J. Johnson squandered the Wampus Cats’ chance. Johnson, fighting for extra yards on a reception near the Cabot 3, instead of going out of bounds, allowed too much time to run off the clock as Conway was unable to get off another play before the end of the half.
Conway was the recipient of another Cabot fumble late in the third quarter, this time a botched snap on a punt, but the Wampus Cats offense responded with a three-and-out.
“We just couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Ashcraft said. “We’ve been able to do that the last two weeks, and we couldn’t do it tonight.”
The Wampus Cats had 212 yards of total offense, and were led by junior tailbacks Karlil Johnson, 17 carries for 63 yards, and Kevin Chamorro, 13 carries for 50 yards.
Smith finished with the team’s lone touchdown while completing eight of 20 passes for 86 yards and an interception.
While Ashcraft admitted the goal is never to lose, he still believes Friday’s game can be turn out to be a positive for the team.
“We needed to be in a barn-burner and we needed to be in a battle,” Ashcraft said. “We got that tonight. We’ve just got to learn from our mistakes, the things we did wrong, and move forward and improve.
“We don’t want to playing our best ball right now anyway.”
Conway will return to John McConnell Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday for its conference opener against the Russellville Cyclones (3-0).
“The bottom line is (Cabot was) a non-conference game, and we’ve got to realize that,” Ashcraft said. “We’ve got to move forward, and get into conference play with the right attitude.”
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)