Behind a steady running attack and stingy play on defense, the Cabot Panthers upset the Bryant Hornets in the opening round of the Arkansas 7A state tournament by a score of 28-21 Friday night.
“We just didn’t capitalize,” Bryant Coach Paul Calley said. “We had too many chances we didn’t capitalize on. Our defense made stops in the second half and we didn’t take advantage of it.
A running back by committee approach by Cabot proved to be too much for Calley and his Hornets as the visiting Panthers kept pounding the running game. Cabot lined up in a formation known as “The Dead T” where three running backs line up next to each other a few yards behind the quarterback. Cabot’s formation proved to be effective as they only needed to throw the ball nine times the entire game.
“You can’t simulate it in practice,” Calley said. “It took us awhile to get adjusted to it. How hard they come off, how hard they hit the hole, especially running the option, you just can’t simulate it.”
Bryant’s offense was the exact opposite as quarterback Hayden Lessenberry threw the football a total of 43 times, completing 21 of those passes. However, the senior quarterback was picked off three times as the turnovers haunted the Hornets all night.
It was a relatively quiet first quarter as both offenses struggled out of the gate. Each team threw an interception on its respective opening possessions. Lessenberry threw his second pick of the evening on the Hornets next drive, setting up Cabot at its own 22-yard line.
Cabot would take advantage of the Hornets’ miscue as the Panthers marched down the field on a 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. Senior running back Max Carroll scored from 4 yards out giving Cabot its first lead at 7-0 with seconds left in the first quarter.
Bryant would answer in a big way as Lessenberry connected with sophomore standout KJ Hill on a seam route for a 27-yard touchdown strike with 9:20 remaining in the second quarter. On the drive, Lessenberry completed all three of his passes for 77 yards.Cabot would not be fazed as they went back to its successful running game. This time, the Panthers only needed five plays to find the end zone. Junior Zachary Launius took an option pitch 28 yards to the house to give Cabot a 14-7 lead with 7:39 remaining in the half.
After the Hornets turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, Cabot added another touchdown on the ground with junior Chris Henry doing the honors from 21 yards out. With 3:40 left in the first half, Cabot extended its lead to 21-7.
On Bryant’s last possession of the first half, the Hornets were faced with a fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard line. Instead of kicking a field goal, Calley elected to go for it. Lessenberry dropped back to pass and was rushed out of the pocket and attempted to pick up the touchdown with his legs. Fortunately for Cabot, Lessenberry was met by a host of Panther defenders inches away from the end zone. Cabot would take over on downs and take a 14-point lead into the locker room.
In the second half, it was the Bryant defense that kept the Hornets in the game. After allowing the Cabot offense to run wild in the first half, the Hornets forced a fumble on Cabot’s opening possession of the second half and held them without a score the next three possessions.
Bryant crawled back into the game as Lessenberry and Hill hooked up for another touchdown. This time, it was Hill doing most of the work as he took a wide receiver screen 68 yards to the end zone. With 4:46 remaining in the third quarter, Cabot had a 21-14 lead.
Despite the stops on defense, the Bryant offense failed to do anything with the momentum. With 9:44 left in the game, the Panthers were set up with favorable field position at the Bryant 30-yard line. Four running plays later, senior running back Kyle Edgar punched it in from 2 yards out giving Cabot a 28-14 lead with 8:30 left in regulation.
On Bryant’s next possession, Lessenberry was picked off for the third time in the game as he threw the ball into double coverage. Cabot took over with 8:15 left in the game and used almost four minutes of game clock before junior Bryce Denker intercepted a Panther pass with just under five minutes left in regulation.
Bryant took over on the Cabot 44-yard line and put together a nine-play drive, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Lessenberry to wide receiver Austin Powell. After the extra point, Bryant closed the Cabot lead to 28-21 with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter.
Bryant’s last hopes of extending the game came down to an onside kick, but the kick was successfully recovered by Cabot. The Panthers took over possession and ran the clock out on the Hornets and their season.
“I’m proud of them. They have nothing to hang their heads about,” Calley said. “They fought their guts out and played till the very end.”