By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CARTHAGE, Mo. – With a minute and change left in the third quarter, and after a 19-yard touchdown run by Jayden Morgan, the Carthage football team lined up to go for two.
Quarterback Patrick Carlton dropped back and fired a quick pass to Morgan in the end zone. The conversion was good; it gave the Tigers a 35-point lead and put an exclamation point on Friday’s 43-8 win over Lebanon in a Class 5 quarterfinal at David Haffner Stadium.
Carthage, now 11-1, advances to the semifinals for the third time in four years.
“It feels great,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said. “I’m so happy for our players, for our coaches, for Carthage. It was a great night, a great atmosphere out here. These kids deserve to be here. They’ve played really, really hard, really all year long. Our fans deserve to have this. They’ve spent a lot of time and money and invested a lot into our program. To give this back and to be in this position is really special.”
Facing a Yellowjackets team that averaged 45 points per game and had twice scored 70 this season, the Tigers absorbed a few punches.
Lebanon, 9-3, moved the ball with ease at times, and drove 53 yards to the Carthage 22-yard line to open the game before junior defensive end Alex Martini intercepted a screen pass and returned it for a touchdown, breaking two tackles in Lebanon territory on the return.
The Yellowjackets moved the ball into Carthage territory on four of five first-half possessions, but trailed 21-8 at halftime.
Carthage led 14-0 after running just two offensive plays. The Tigers started their first drive at the Lebanon 34 after the Yellowjackets inadvertently downed the ball on a punt attempt. That set up a 10-yard touchdown by Carlton, a sophomore, and an extra point by junior Marcus Huntley to make it 14-0.
Carlton added a 1-yard score with 8:13 left in the half to lead 21-0, but Lebanon answered with a 68-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 1-yard run by senior quarterback Ty Glendenning.
Senior running back Jayden Ivey added the two-point conversion.
Lebanon started at its own 17 on its final possession of the half and got as far as the Carthage 36 before coming up short on a fourth-down play as time expired.
“I thought we came out in the first half and moved the football extremely well,” Lebanon coach Will Christian said. “We gave ourself opportunities and a couple big plays didn’t go our way. But we still felt like coming it at halftime we had a little bit of momentum possibly and we had an opportunity in the second half.”
A 60-yard run by Carthage junior Tyler Mueller set up another Carthage touchdown to open the third quarter – Mueller punched it in himself two plays later. That made it a 28-8 game.
“Twelve straight games we’ve scored on our first possession coming after halftime,” Guidie said. “That was big.”
On the verge of letting the game slip away, the Yellowjackets drove to the Carthage 21 but fumbled on a third-and-short. That led to a 76-yard scoring drive by the Tigers lasting 14 plays and eating more than seven minutes from the clock. Mueller’s 1-yard run and Huntley’s PAT made it 35-8.
“We really didn’t respond from it very good and it got away from us,” Christian said.
“There’s no doubt, you’ve got to take care of the football in this kind of game,” he said. “It’s just absolutely imperative. Honestly, you need to execute getting takeaways and we didn’t do that. I think our kids played with a lot of heart tonight and fought. Carthage was just the better football team.”
Senior Tucker Downing recovered the ensuing kickoff deep in Lebanon territory, and Morgan, a senior receiver, scored on the 19-yard run on Carthage’s first down. His two-point conversion gave Carthage the benefit of a running clock.
“They’re very good,” Christian said. “Coming into the game, we knew they were very good so I wasn’t extremely surprised by any of that. It was a situation where we had to get some stops and we didn’t get enough obviously and we had to convert and we moved the football but we had a hard time converting points. I don’t want to take away from what these kids accomplished this year. They did a tremendous job and I’m super proud of them.”
“Turnovers helped,” Guidie said. “It felt bad at times (defensively) but as bad as it felt we only let them cross that goal line once. We can’t hang our heads or feel bad about that. They’re averaging 45 points per game. To hold those guys to eight is pretty impressive.”
Carthage now turns its attention to Saturday’s quarterfinal game pitting Jackson against Vianney. If Vianney wins, Carthage will host next week’s semifinal. The Tigers would play at Jackson.