By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CARTHAGE — The Carthage Tigers dominated possession in the first half, including 22 of 25 offensive plays in the first quarter, and built a 28-7 halftime lead on the Joplin Eagles.
Then after Joplin cut the lead to 28-20 with 6 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Carthage pieced together a 16-play scoring drive that numbered 86 yards and devoured 9:07 off the clock.
The Tigers scored once more and earned a 41-20 victory Friday night at David Haffner Stadium. At the end of the night, after their victory and Nixa’s 28-0 loss to Webb City, the Tigers became the last standing unbeaten team in the Central Ozark Conference.
Carthage (6-0) took possession first and established a smash mouth tone right from the start with a drive totaling 12 plays, 70 yards, and 5:12. Senior quarterback Patrick Carlton culminated it with a 1-yard touchdown run, his first of four rushing scores on the night.
“That was one of our keys going in,” Carthage head coach Jon Guidie said. “We wanted to dominate the line of scrimmage, really on both sides, but particularly with our offensive line. We wanted to come out with that mentality and we did. We wanted to keep their offense over there (on the sideline) and the kids executed really well.”
Joplin’s first drive ended in a three-and-out and Carthage’s second drive continued what the Tigers had established during their first.
Carthage’s first 23 offensive plays were all run and the Tigers’ first two pass plays proved to be important. Sylas Browning fought for five yards on a fourth-and-3 to keep a drive alive and then Carthage executed a receiver pass perfectly for a 32-yard TD, Caden Kabance on the throw and Hudson Moore on the catch.
On its second drive, Joplin cut the deficit in half with a Nathan Glades 1-yard run capping off a 11-play, 65-yard drive. Glades deserved to find the end zone, because his 21-yard reception on a fourth-and-13 play set the Eagles up with a first and goal at the Carthage 1.
Carthage’s Justin Sneed then made his first of two big plays in the first half, his kickoff return giving the Tigers the ball in Joplin territory. Three plays later, Carlton scored on a 29-yard run and Carthage led 21-7 6:11 before halftime.
The next two possessions proved to be critical.
Joplin (3-4) hurt itself offensively with four penalties and Sneed ended the Eagles’ 14-play drive with an interception that he returned into Joplin territory. Three plays later, Carlton’s 2-yard run made it a 28-7 game, as Carthage scored with 46.9 seconds remaining in the half.
“That turnover was huge,” Guidie said of Sneed’s interception on a fourth down play. “Not only that, but his return to get us into plus-territory to give us a chance to score there. When you go into halftime up by three instead of two (scores), because they got the ball coming out, that was really big. You want to be opportunistic on those things. It’s one thing to turn ’em over, but if you can convert on that, it’s a whole another animal.”
The Eagles often hurt themselves Friday night, epitomized by that second quarter drive.
“Carthage is a really good team,” Joplin head coach Curtis Jasper said. “We knew that going into it that we were going to have to play well and I liked our fight in the second half, especially defensively I thought we played well. We just made too many mistakes and too many penalties.
“It just adds up. We’ve had that trouble all season long. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong. I haven’t figured out how to fix that yet and we’ve got to get better at that.”
The Eagles, though, displayed their explosive potential in the first half of the third quarter, with first their opening drive and then one big special teams play.
On a third-and-long play, Always Wright hit a leaping Landon Atherton in the end zone for a 28-yard TD pass.
The Eagles’ defense next stepped up and forced Carthage to punt for the first time all night. On the punt, Glades broke a pair of Carthage tackles along the Joplin sideline and found the open road to a 80-yard TD and a 28-20 deficit.
“He’s such a talented kid,” Guidie said of Glades. “You never want to let him loose anywhere. We tried to kick it away from him every time and certainly didn’t want to have to punt it to him, but we did. It was a great punt, 50-60 yards, had him wrapped up over there, and he’s a talented player.”
The Tigers answered the bell in a big way the rest of the night.
On their next drive — 16 plays, 86 yards, and 9:07 — Carthage went 4-5 on third down and 1-1 on fourth down. In fact, the Tigers scored on a 35-yard pass from Carlton to Luke Gall on a third-and-long play.
“Any time you can follow a score with a three-and-out, that is huge,” Guidie said. “That is huge. That’s what they did to start the second half. They scored and then we went three-and-out. That’s what I love about this group of kids, they didn’t hang their head and let it get them down. It got hairy and the kids stayed with it. I want to say that we came out after that and had a 16-play drive, which, man, that’s a huge testament to these kids’ character.”
On the penultimate Joplin possession, Carthage defensive back Browning came off coverage to stop a scrambling Wright four yards shy on fourth down and then Carlton closed out the scoring with a 1-yard TD run with 1:53 remaining. The Tigers put together their fourth and final 10-or-more-play scoring drive.
Carthage hits the road in Week 8 to face a Republic squad coming off a 28-21 defeat Friday against Carl Junction.
“This was a huge night for us in terms of the conference race and district seeding,” Guidie said. “We try and tell ’em ‘Don’t worry about the outcome, just worry about the details and the outcome will take care of itself.’ We knew there was a lot riding on this game. I really believe that this group is going to continue to fight every day and prepare like they always do no matter the situation. They gave themselves a chance tonight to stay in the fight and stay in the hunt.”
Joplin returns home in Week 8 and welcomes Branson.