JONESBORO — Jonesboro gave Cabot a little too much help Friday.
Cabot took advantage of three Jonesboro turnovers, scoring twice in a minute late in the first half on its way to a 42-14 victory at Cooksey-Johns Field. With the win, the Panthers have earned the top seed in the Class 7A state playoffs, which starts in two weeks.
Although Cabot won by four touchdowns, the Panthers used big plays to get their points. They had only three first downs before scoring twice in the fourth quarter.
The final score wasn’t indicative of Jonesboro’s effort. The Hurricane (5-4, 3-3 7A/6A-East) controlled the clock in the first half, taking up more than 10 minutes on a 22-play opening drive that ended in a touchdown. Reed Wingo found fullback D.Q. Forrest on a 2-yard pass on fourth down to tie the game 7-7.
Cabot (9-0, 6-0 7A/6A-East) scored first as Preston Jones took an option pitch 41 yards for a touchdown. Jonesboro recovered an onside kick after its first touchdown and mounted another drive to the Panthers’ 13 before a tipped pass was intercepted by Cabot’s Jake Ferguson.
The Panthers went up 14-7 on a 60-yard touchdown run by Dylan Thompson with 2:47 left in the second quarter. Following the ensuing kickoff, the Hurricane fumbled the ball back to the Panthers on the second play from scrimmage.
Thompson scored on the next play, rolling 19 yards up the middle. With Trevor Reed’s extra point, Cabot’s lead grew to 21-7 with 1:22 remaining in the opening half.
The touchdown took Jonesboro out of its ball-control game plan.
Jonesboro coach Randy Coleman said the two quick scores were the turning point of the game.
"It’s still 14-7 with two minutes to go. We know we get the ball to start the second half and we can go down and score and we’ve got a ballgame again, and we’re still marching on with our game plan the way we wanted to, and then we turn it over and they get a quick score right before the half," Coleman said. "After that it was tough because they can control the ball and it gets out of your game plan, and once you get out of what you want to do it makes things difficult."
Cabot coach Mike Malham said the turnovers got his team going.
"That helped us get back on track. We were looking at going into the half tied at 7 or down, and all the sudden we’re up 21-7, which gave us a little bit of breathing room," Malham said. "In the second half we stopped them and they stopped us and we played on their end of the field, and finally about halfway through the third quarter we got a drive going. Jonesboro played hard. Coach Coleman does a good job and they’ve got some good athletes out there."
With the score still 21-7 late in the third quarter, another Hurricane turnover led to points for the Panthers.
Following a stand by the Jonesboro defense, Cabot was forced to punt. Jonesboro was unable to handle the catch as the Panthers recovered the ball at the Hurricane 12 and scored three plays later on Chris Henry’s 7-yard run. The extra point put the Panthers on top 28-7 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter.
Coleman said once his team fell behind, the game plan that had worked so well early had to change.
"The first drive was 22 plays. That was exactly what we wanted to do and exactly how we game-planned it and on our second drive we march right down the field," Coleman said. "As a coach I got a little bit greedy. Their safety was making so many plays at the line of scrimmage, I thought we could play-action and get behind him, but they do a great job and tip it and it gets picked and that ruins that drive."
The Panthers tacked on two fourth-quarter touchdowns as Zach Launius scored on runs of 37 and 40 yards.
The Hurricane would find the end zone one more time. Wingo made another nice play, eluding pressure then throwing across his body to Carson Coats, who was on the ground at the goal line when he hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Will Brandt booted the extra point to cut the Cabot lead to 35-14 with 4:46 left in the game.
Jonesboro’s Denzel Mitchell rushed for 77 yards on 25 carries, while Darren Veasley finished with 40 yards rushing on 14 carries. Wingo was 12-for-24 through the air for 113 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Coats reeled in five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Launius rushed for only 17 yards in the first half, but finished the game with 131 yards on 16 carries.
Patrick Neyhart led Cabot with 20 tackles. Jake Ferguson had 12. Tristan Bulice had 11. Jack Whisker had 10. Jordan Burke had eight.
The Panthers will travel to Searcy to take on the Lions in the regular-season finale Friday night.