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Panthers, Tigers to meet for Class 7A state championship

Editor’s note: This story was published prior to the postponement of all playoff games this weekend. The Class 7A state championship game is not set for Friday, Dec. 13, 7 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Cabot will be playing one of the heavyweights in all of high school football in the Class 7A state championship game Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

The Bentonville Tigers are 10-2 this season and this is their fourth consecutive trip to Little Rock for the top prize in the state’s largest classification.

“It’s going to be a tough game, obviously,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham, whose teams won state titles in 1983 and 2000. “Bentonville’s been here how many years in a row and they’ve won the the west the last three years or so. That’s been the dominant conference but our kids have been playing well all year.”

Cabot beat North Little Rock 43-42 in double overtime to advance to the title game.

“I don’t think we can play anyone more talented that North Little Rock but Bentonville is very sound and they don’t make mistakes,” Malham said. “You’re going to have to beat them to beat them. Hopefully, we play the same way — don’t make mistakes. If they beat us, it’s that we don’t help them. I hope we can make it a good game.”

This year’s senior class, many of which started as sophomores when the Panthers went 3-7, is the one Malham has been pointing to as a group that could win state.

“We thought we’d have a chance when they were seniors,” Malham said. “Ten or 12 of them played as sophomores. We took our lumps two years ago then got better at the end of the year. Last year, we won seven and made it to the quarterfinals. This year, we’re 12-0 right now. We’ve done everything right so far. Hopefully, we can make it a great game.”

Bentonville coach Barry Lunney said to have a chance to beat Cabot is simple — find the football and not let Cabot control the clock.

“That’s what they do,” Lunney said. “That is what they’ve done forever. You start looking at the scores and the time of possession — from that standpoint, we’ve got to get some takeaways, however that happens. It could be a punt. He’s going to go on fourth down no matter where he is on the field. We’ve got to get some stops. Hopefully get a turnover somewhere down the line.”

Lunney said the way Cabot can control the ball and clock it puts a premium on his team’s chances on offense.

“Every time you get a possession, you’ve got to score,” he said. “That’s always the objective but it puts more of a premium on it because you’re going to get as many touches sometimes.”

Lunney said Cabot’s offense, which is a Dead T based on running the ball, presents a challenge because they don’t get to see that type of offense in the regular season.

“Rogers is the closest thing,” he said. “They are running the bone, the Air Force option, but they get bigger splits on the line. You can’t get ready for it [Cabot’s offense]. You can’t simulate it in practice. We’ve had great ‘look squads’ all year long on opponents we’ve faced but this is just a different beast. We will do the best we can with that.”

A few of Bentonville’s key players include senior tight end Jack Kraus, who committed to Arkansas, and senior linebacker Nick Fernandez.

“You start with those guys,” Lunney said.

He also said receiver Jimmie Jackson, receiver/defensive back Cody Scroggins and nose guard Jared Conover are key players.

“We’ve got some good players,” Lunney said. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”

Malham said his team is going to do what it does best.

“Hopefully, we can play some solid defense and not give up the big play and hang on to the ball a little bit,” he said. “Nothing is going to really change. We’ve just got to execute and not make mistakes and not beat ourselves.”

Malham said participating in the state championship game is exciting.

“I’ve been fortunate enough in 36 years of coaching to coach in six state championship games,” he said. “One as an assistant at Jacksonville and five as a head coach. You savior every moment of these games. Hopefully, we don’t play like we did in 1997 and 1998 and play like we did in 1983 and 2000.”

Cabot quarterback Kason Kimbrell said his team must continue to play their game on offense.

“All year, we’ve come out and played Cabot football,” the senior quarterback said. “Our defense, this year, has really stepped up their game a lot. The reason we are winning games is because our defense is holding teams down and they aren’t scoring very many points.”

Kimbrell said playing for and winning a state championship is a goal that his team has had, especially the seniors, since they were in junior high.

“Our group has played together for three years now,” he said. “We are really wanting to win a state championship and bring it back to Cabot.”

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