By Dana Harding (For Ozarks Sports Zone)
NIXA, Mo. — A week after suffering a 49-7 loss at the hands of Carl Junction, Carthage looked to rebound at Nixa.
Rebound, in this case, turned out to be quite an understatement.
The Tigers scored six touchdowns and racked up 486 yards of offense en route to a 46-14 victory Friday night, spoiling Nixa’s homecoming in the process.
Carthage running back Clay Newman carried the ball 20 times for 121 yards and three scores.
Tigers head coach Jon Guidie praised the hard-running senior, who battled through some nagging injuries during the week.
“Clay had a good night,” Carthage head coach Jon Guidie said. “He was hurt this week, too, so I’m really proud of him for coming out and toughing it out. We gave him a lot of carries tonight, and he responded.”
In a back-and-forth first quarter that started out a bit sluggish, Nixa was first to find the end zone.
Following a Carthage punt, the Eagles took the ball near midfield and needed just four plays to drive 56 yards for the score. Nixa quarterback Jack Sanders connected with Nathan Elmer on a 25-yard pass to set up a 28-yard scoring strike to Sean Sample.
Unfortunately for Nixa’s boisterous homecoming crowd, the 7-0 lead didn’t last long at all.
On the very next series, Carthage drove 63 yards in nine plays. Corben Pugh’s 2-yard touchdown run put the Tigers up 8-7 in what was shaping up to be a close, competitive match.
Close, at least, until the second quarter rolled around.
On its first series of the period, Carthage wasted little time showcasing its game-changing, big-play ability.
After driving to the Nixa 32, all-state receiver Arkell Smith hauled in an acrobatic 32-yard touchdown pass from Zeke Sappington to stretch the Tiger lead to 16-7.
Blessed with speed and an absurd vertical jump, Smith managed to reach around the defender in mid-air, pin the ball against his back and then wrestle it away as the two landed.
“I’ve been watching a lot of highlights of NFL receivers,” Smith said. “I see them catch it on the back, and I knew it was my time, so it was nice to be able to catch that one.”
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According to Sappington, his task as a quarterback is simple with Smith on the field … just get the ball in range.
“That’s what the coaches tell me to do,” Sappington said. “When Arkell is out there running a route, they say ‘throw it in front of him, and Arkell will go get it.’ He amazes me with some of the catches he’ll make, and that’s all I have to do.”
In one fell swoop, Smith’s circus-catch touchdown (VIDEO ABOVE) completely changed the complexion of the game and sent the Tigers on a second-quarter, three-score rampage.
Carthage took a 32-7 lead into the half, and never looked back.
Nixa, on the other hand, turned largely one-dimensional and was unable to sustain drives.
The Eagles were held to just 201 yards of total offense, highlighted by Sample’s 19 carries for 73 yards.
Coach Guidie credited an increased focus on fundamentals for his team’s strong defensive showing.
“We tackled better tonight,” Guidie said. “Last week, I don’t think we made a tackle, but this week we tackled much better, and that’s a result from how the kids practiced this week. They got several stops for us, gave our offense a chance to get the ball back and do some good things.”
Those good things included Sappington’s 10 of 16 passes for 216 yards, and Smith’s four catches for 134 — which included plays of 46, 32, 28 and 28 yards.
“That’s what [Smith] does,” Guidie said. “We’re not very smart coaches over here; obviously, we need to do that a little more, but just give him a chance. Give him a chance to go up and get it and, most of the time, he’s going to come down with it … great ball skills.”
After the game, Guidie talked about the importance of getting back into the win column.
“We needed this one,” Guidie said. “Our ultimate goal is still there — A district championship, get in the playoffs and you never know what can happen. It’s there for us … we just have to keep working and, hopefully, good things will happen.”
Next week, Carthage (4-3) hosts Republic, while Nixa (5-2) welcomes Ozark.
Carthage – 46, Nixa – 14
Carthage 8 24 14 0 — 46
Nixa 7 0 7 0 — 14
First quarter scoring Nixa – Sean Sample 28-yard TD pass from Jack Sanders (Sample kick)
Carthage – Corben Pugh 2-yard TD rush (Morgan 2-point conversion rec)
Second quarter scoring Carthage – Arkell Smith 32-yard TD pass from Zeke Sappington (Morgan 2-point conversion rec)
Carthage – Sappington 4-yard TD rush (Smith 2-point conversion rec)
Carthage – Clay Newman 3-yard TD rush (Smith 2-point conversion rec)
Third quarter scoring Carthage – Newman 1-yard TD rush (Bryant 2-point conversion rec)
Nixa – Evan Deveney 21-yard TD pass from Sanders (Sample kick)
Carthage – Newman 2-yard TD rush (conversion failed)