LITTLE ROCK — Cabot is now 2-3 in state championship games.
The Panthers lost to Bentonville 39-28 in the Class 7A state championship game on a cold and rainy Friday night at War Memorial Stadium. Cabot won state titles in 1983 and 2000 but lost in 1997 and 1998.
Early on, the Panthers (12-1) were in control, leading 14-13 at halftime.
How they got there was with some trickeration and the solid running of senior Zach Launius.
After Bentonville’s Bennett Moehring kicked a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter, Cabot took a 7-3 lead.
First the trick play. Launius threw for a 14-yard fullback pass to senior Chris Henry. The Trevor Reed kick was good. Every Reed extra point was successful.
Bentonville followed with its first touchdown of the night when Jack Kraus caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Kasey Ford with 4:43 left in the first half.
Cabot wasn’t down and after quarterback Kason Kimbrell hit Jake Ferguson for a 22-yard reception, Launius took it in from 1 yard out to put Cabot up 14-10 with 54 seconds left in the first half.
Bentonville had a chance reclaim the lead after Ford, the game’s most valuable player, threw a 52-yard pass to Jimmie Jackson down to the Cabot 10.
The Panthers were able to keep the Tigers out of the end zone and Moehring kicked a 31-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
The second half was a different story.
Cabot fumbled twice and Bentonville capitalized by scoring two touchdowns.
Bentonville got the ball to start the second half and drove 75 yards in 8 plays with Hekili Keliiliki scoring on a 1-yard run with 8:48 left in the third quarter. The big play of the drive was a 41-yard pass from Ford to Chris Scroggins down to the Cabot 20.
The Panthers looked to be driving on their next drive but Lanius fumbled at the Bentonville 47. Tyler Nichols recovered for the Tigers. That led to a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ford to Scroggins with 3:31 left in the third quarter. After a bobbled snap on the extra point, the Tigers led 26-14.
The Panthers then drove the ball to the Bentonville 22 but the drive again ended with a fumble by Launius and a recovery for Nichols. The Tigers then pushed their lead to 32-14 when Ford threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jackson with 8:43 left in the game.
Cabot attempted to make things interesting by driving 80 yards in 7 plays with Launius scoring on a 4-yard run with 6:17 left to make the score 32-21. Henry had a 52-yard run on the drive down to the Bentonville 28.
Cabot attempted an onside kick but Bentonville downed the ball at its 34. Ten plays alter, Keliiliki scored on an 18-yard run with 1:47 left in the game to make the score 39-21.
The Panthers’ final score 5-yard run by Launius with 8 seconds left in the game.
Cabot coach Mike Malham said the two fumbles were the difference in the game.
“Congratulations to Bentonville,” he said. “They didn’t have a turnover. The turnovers we had were the difference in the ball game. That’s an 11-point difference.”
Malham said it was a great game in the first half.
“Both teams had stops and had scores,” he said. “In the second half, we never stopped them but they never really stopped us. We had the two fumbles that stopped us on two good drives. The two fumbles were basically the difference in the score.
“Turnovers in a big game are going to hurt you every time.”
Launius led Cabot with 179 yards rushing on 39 carries. Henry had 76 yards on 8 carries. Preston Jones finished with 35 yards on 7 carries. Kimbrell had 28 yards on 7 carries. Dylan Thompson carried once for 12 yards.
Kimbrell completed 6 of 7 passes for 72 yards. Henry caught 3 passes for 51 yards a touchdown. Jake Ferguson caught 2 passes for 32 yards. Jones and Thompson each caught a pass.
Jake Ferguson led the Panthers with 12 tackles. Colby Ferguson had 8. Jordan Burke, Aaron Henry and Jake Vaughn had 5 apiece. Logan Melder and Patrick Neyhart had four tackles each. Brian Marshall had the only quarterback sack for the Panthers.
Dylan Smith led Bentonville with 106 yards rushing on 22 carries. Ford completed 11 of 18 passes for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Jackson caught 4 passes for 114 yards. Scroggins had 4 catches for 110 yards.
“The kids played hard all year,” Malham said. “Things just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Staff Writer Jeremy Peppas contributed to this story