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Despite loss in state title game, Panthers prove they are back with the state’s elite

I’ve been very blessed to cover some really good football teams in the past 17 seasons and while the Cabot Panthers came up short in the Class 7A state title game, that doesn’t diminish the fact that the Panthers are back.

After winning three straight conference titles from 2008-10, the Panthers dropped off quite a bit, going 3-7 in 2011 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. However, Cabot ended the season strong, beating Van Buren and Russellville in the final two games to gain some momentum heading into the offseason. The seeds for 2013 were planted.

2012 was a much better season for the Panthers as they advanced to the state playoffs, beating Bryant in the first round before falling to North Little Rock in the second round. The seeds began to sprout then.

So, this brings us to 2013. The Panthers were ranked seventh in Class 7A to start the season. When the season started, so did the wins and they came in bunches.

Cabot knocked off each opponent they faced and did it with relative ease, including wins over Conway and North Little Rock during the regular season. Both those teams advanced to the Class 7A state semifinals.

Cabot and North Little Rock met in a monumental showdown for a berth in the state title game. As everyone knows, it was a controversial finish but I thought Cabot’s Zach Launius crossed the goal line for the two-point conversion in the second overtime. My opinion didn’t count; only the opinion of the officials on the field counted and they signaled “good,” sending the Panthers into the state title game for the fifth time in school history.

Cabot was all set to play Bentonville for the state championship Dec. 6. However, Mother Nature had other ideas as ice and snow, along with freezing temperatures, forced all playoff games all six classifications to be postponed a week.

Well, when Cabot and Bentonville played for the 7A state title Dec. 13, the weather wasn’t much better as it was in the Mid-30s with a downpour most of the game. That night, Cabot committed several turnovers and had mistakes the Panthers didn’t make during the regular season. The Tigers were able to capitalize and win the state championship 39-28 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Cabot did not win the state title but the seeds had bloomed.

Cabot ended its season at 12-1; but that’s not the real story. The real story is that Cabot coach Mike Malham and his staff took a group of sophomores in 2011 and groomed them to have a chance to be one of the best teams in the state, as well as in Cabot history. And there is no denying that fact.

There had been grumblings in the community about Cabot’s lack of success in recent years as far as making it to the state title game. The Panthers probably had the best team in the state in 2009 but lost a heart-breaker to Springdale Har-Ber in the semifinals that season.

I’ve known Coach Malham since 1997. He’s, by far, one of the best coaches in the history of the state of Arkansas. He’s won 268 games and two state championships while losing only 116 with four ties during his 33-year run in Cabot. I can honestly say I don’t know much about the inner workings of a football team — I’m not paid to do so; however, I can honestly say Coach Malham and his staff know how to work the system they run (pun intended) and make the most out what they have.

The Cabot community, school district, fans and athletes alike should all be proud of what the 2013 Panthers football team accomplished. There are 14 other teams in Class 7A that would have loved to have been playing in the state title game.

Mark Buffalo is the editor of the Star-Herald. His e-mail address is mbuffalo@cabotstarherald.com

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