Not even Conway coach Clint Ashcraft saw what happened at Centennial Bank Field at John McConnell Stadium coming.
The Wampus Cats hadn’t defeated Cabot since 2006 — until Friday night that is.
The resurgent Cats continued their dominating offensive ways — along with solid defensive play — to rout the Panthers 41-7. While the win may not necessarily be surprising, the margin of victory could very well be.
"I’m shocked, really," Ashcraft said. "If anyone told you before the game that they thought the score would be 41-7, they’d be lying."
Whether anyone had any prior insight or not of the outcome, Conway’s dominance was evident.
"They just gave us an old-fashioned butt whooping," Panthers coach Mike Malham said.
Desmond Cox scored three touchdowns — including two rushing and one receiving — and Tyler Langley finished 12-of-21 for 197 yards and two touchdowns to give Conway a win in its 7A-Central Conference opener.
The Cats sputtered a bit to open the game, going three-and-out on their first two drives, including a botched snap on a punt after the second possession.
That set up Cabot at the Conway 32. However, a false start penalty quickly moved the Panthers, and the drive ended after a failed fourth-down attempt.
"They just wore us out," Malham said of the Cats. "It was a pretty good ballgame for about a quarter. Offensively, we didn’t do anything."
The Conway offense did plenty, however.
The Cats kept the momentum going after that fourth-down stand and capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 5-yard pass from Tyler Langley to Trevor Maltbia at the 1:15 mark in the opening quarter. Ivan Pelayo’s PAT gave Conway a 7-0 lead.
"We just needed a spark," Ashcraft said of the Cats’ early offensive struggles. "Once we got that spark, we were able to get going and move the ball well."
They moved the ball well enough to score on five of their next six possessions, including Cox’s three scores. Jemarkus Harmon scored from 4 yards out at the 8:10 mark in the third, and Colin Fluesmeier had a 4-yard touchdown run of his own with 11:17 left in the game to complete the scoring.
Still, one of the biggest factors in the game was the Conway defense, which held the Cabot rushing game to under 150 yards. In fact, the Panthers didn’t even get a first down until midway through the second quarter.
But not even that went the Panthers’ way.
On second-and-9 and the Cats leading 14-0, the run-heavy Cabot offense connected on a long pass play when Zach Craig hooked up with Rod Quinn for what ended up being a 46-yard gain. However, Quinn fumbled, and Conway recovered to bring an abrupt stop to any threat.
"If we score there, we could go into the half down 14-7 and get the ball back to start the second half," Malham said. "But, we fumbled away our opportunity to get back into the game."
On that opening drive of the second half, Jeremy Berry fumbled on the fifth play of the drive. Conway’s Marquez Massey picked up the loose ball at the Cats 47, eventually setting up Harmon’s lone touchdown.
That seemed to sum up the game, as Conway took advantage of opportunities, and Cabot didn’t.
"Everything went our way," Ashcraft said. "It was just our night."
Harmon led the Cats with 58 rushing yards, while Jalen Jones had three catches for 78 yards to lead the receivers. But, Conway’s offensive production was spread out, giving the Panther defense problems all night.
"They have so many weapons," Malham said. "We can’t keep our defense out there that long against them."
Spencer Smith led Cabot with 68 rushing yards on 15 carries.
Conway continues conference play next week at North Little Rock.