By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With ten-and-a-half seconds on the clock and the visiting crowd chanting TWO, Jon Guidie made the gutsy call to go for it.
His Tigers had pulled to within a point of Joplin and in a game that featured exactly zero punts, Carthage decided to end it one way or the other on a two-point try.
Tyler Mueller took an option pitch running left and headed for the pylon. He was met a yard shy by Joplin linebacker Holden Ledford.
Moments later, Ledford was hoisted to the shoulders of his teammates in the north end zone after the Eagles held on for a wild 56-55 victory at Junge Field.
“Holden’s two-point stop was probably the best play of the game,” Joplin running back Isaiah Davis said. “That saved us the game. That’s the reason we won.”
Asked if he had any doubt his defense would come through in that moment, Joplin coach Curtis Jasper paused – for good reason.
Carthage racked up 614 yards of offense and 36 first downs. The Tigers needed just one third down conversion in the first half. For most of the night, their offense was an unstoppable machine.
“I asked them at halftime if they believed in each other and they resoundingly said yes,” Jasper said. “I figured at some point in time we’d get it figured out and get a stop when we needed to.”
The defense did just that, coming up huge in the biggest moments of the game. There was a fumble recovery in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter with the game tied at 42. That allowed Joplin to take its first lead all night.
And with the Eagles leading 56-49 in the final minutes, Joplin’s defense finally pressured Carthage quarterback Patrick Carlton, sacking him twice and forcing an incompletion on a third down play.
But Carlton and the Tigers didn’t fold. He gained 14 yards on a fourth-and-1 in the final minute, then threw a 34-yard bomb to Alex Martini on a third-and-20.
That put the Tigers at the 8-yard line with 20 seconds left in the game. Kale Schrader caught a pass to the 1 and then Carlton scored with 10.5 seconds on the clock to make it 56-55.
The game was full of big moments.
Joplin, which entered the night with a plus-5 turnover margin, desperately needed a takeaway in the second half with the Eagles playing from behind most of the game.
They finally got it when Carlton fumbled inside the 10 and Joplin defensive back Damion Schertzer fell on the ball in the end zone.
“They just kept playing,” Jasper said. “I kept telling them keep chopping wood. We’re going to keep scoring and we’re going to get the stop we need and we got it.”
Three plays later, Joplin found itself in a fourth-and-1 at its own 29.
Jasper sent the punt team onto the field, but the offense wasn’t having it. Joplin players waved them off and convinced their coach to go for it.
He was rewarded with an 8-yard gain by Davis up the middle with a defender plastered to him most of the way.
“They were starting to come on the field and I was like, ‘Coach Jasper trust us, trust your offense. We’ve done it the whole game.’ Came out fourth-and-1 and did what we’d done all game, ran the ball down their throat and it worked.”
“I figured if they believed in each other I better believe in them too,” Jasper said.
“The offensive line, they wanted that really bad and they got him the first down and Davis carried it the rest of the way,” he added.
Four plays later Blake Tash threw a short pass to Zach Westmoreland who made three defenders miss and sprinted in for a 53-yard touchdown.
The extra point made it 49-42 and Joplin led for the first time.
Carthage answered with an 80-yard drive and a 2-yard Carlton score to tie the game with 3:01 remaining.
Joplin, on a second down at its own 43, gave the ball to Davis who hurdled a defender and broke another tackle in front of the home sideline then cut across the field and scored at the right pylon.
Garrett Landis’ extra point – he was perfect in eight tries – gave the Eagles a 56-49 lead with 2:32 left in the game.
“In the moment I don’t know what I was thinking,” Davis said. “I was thinking hit the gap, look to the backside, that’s where I hit it.”
“Second time I did that in the game,” he said of the hurdle. “I trust my blockers and things add up in the end. It ended up good.”
Davis’ night added up to 241 yards and five touchdowns on 29 carries.
He scored three times in the first half and Nathan Glades added a 42-yard run, but Joplin trailed 35-28 at halftime thanks in part to three Mueller touchdowns.
Joplin’s only misstep in the first half was a turnover on downs at midfield to start the second quarter.
That allowed the Tigers to build a two-touchdown lead, first at 21-7 and later 35-21.
Carthage finished with 614 yards and two players with more than 200 yards on the ground. Carlton rushed for 251 yards and five scores and threw for 111. Mueller rushed for 218 yards and three scores.
Joplin finished with 568 yards, including 333 on the ground. Tash completed 14 of 19 passes for 235 yards and two scores. Westmoreland had nine receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns.