By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA — The Carthage Tigers (1-0) advanced to the Class 5 state semifinals one year ago.
And, at Friday’s season opener at Nixa, the Tigers hadn’t lost a step as they controlled all facets of the game shutting out the Eagles, 35-0, to kick start the fall campaign.
Junior signal caller Patrick Carlton tossed a 56-yard score to senior wideout and defensive back Marcus Huntley down the far sideline.
Huntley also snagged a first-half interception and scored on the ground from eight-yards out.
“I saw the high safety sitting right in the middle of the field. I knew I had Marcus over the top,” Carlton said of the score.
Carlton finished with 186 all-purpose yards and the one score.
There’s something in the water in Carthage — because year in and year out — the Tigers graduate players and never seem to lose a step.
And the shutout speaks volumes for a team itching to get back to the state tournament.
“It shows what our team is bringing this year,” said Carlton. “Our team is bringing great talent, a lot of experience coming back.”
Some injuries have occurred, like most programs, but one asset again this season is depth.
With the versatile offense scoring at will against the Eagles defense, depth serves as a nice precursor to coming seasons.
And the rest of the Central Ozark Conférence is on alert once again.
No matter the game plan, the Tigers have the talent to keep putting a hat on a hat and open the running alleys and passing lanes.
“We have had a few injuries this year, but we have great athletes and great depth behind them,” said Carlton. “They are doing a great role of fitting in.”
One player that continues to find his niche is senior running back Tyler Mueller — who had scores from 61, nine, and two-yards out.
When Carlton wasn’t dragging draping defenders on his runs, Mueller was exposing the A and B gaps, while also bouncing the rock off-tackle to go the distance, and Huntley was using his speed and athleticism to gain a step on the back end of the defense.
While some programs would shudder at the thought of a figurative target on its back, Mueller said it’s simply fuel on the fire.
In short: They welcome the challenge each and every week.
“The [preseason] rankings came out and we are ranked second. We try not to think about it. We are a great team. We have some people coming back. We can just prove that we are better than they think we are,” said Mueller, who amassed 155 rushing yards en route to this three scores.”
Fort Zumwalt North was ranked one spot ahead of Mueller and company.
Carthage returns 11 starters this season, and remaining focused and on the job at-hand is priority one, and establishing the trenches on both sides of the ball illuminated the game plan and is being viewed as priority two.
“We just have to prove it on the field every Friday night,” Mueller said, whose poise and overall field vision kept moving the chains. “Yeah, it was great laying that goose egg [on] Nixa. That was big for our defense.”
The defense in which Mueller was alluding to was beyond stingy: holding the Eagles scoreless while forcing five turnovers.
As for Mueller, he didn’t force the issue in the backfield.
He was patient and allowed his offensive linemen time to open up the alleys.
“We have the best O-line in Missouri,” Mueller said. “I can just thank them. They give me big holes and I run through it.”
Nixa gained 235 yards of offense but could never break through on fourth down — a credit to the disciplined defensive line.
Nixa head coach Rich Rehagen could not be reached for comment.
Nixa head to Republic next week and Carthage hosts Carl Junction.