By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Willard, Mo. — It didn’t take Carthage long to regroup after last week’s close call at Branson.
The visiting Tigers scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the game — and 28 unanswered points — en route to a 35-14 victory over Willard Friday evening.
Quarterback Patrick Carlton rushed for four scores — two in the first quarter — and threw a fifth to Marcus Huntley.
Carlton finished the game with 140 rushing yards on 25 carries. The junior playmaker also recorded 145 yards through the air.
“[The opening series] was more important than any other part of the game,” Carlton said. “This whole week, I made sure I had the best attitude I could possibly have. I wanted to make sure my team was ready, and we came out and played great.”
On the other side of the field, Willard’s offense found itself unable to finish drives, partially due to a stout Carthage defense, and partially due to its own miscues.
Two first-half fumbles were converted into Carthage touchdowns, and the host Tigers quickly found themselves in an inhospitable position down four scores.
Willard finished the game with 276 yards passing from quarterback Reece Dawson (17-44) and another 85 rushing yards as a team.
For Carthage head coach John Guidie, the quick start was vital on both sides of the ball.
“To get that score on your first possession and then follow it with a stop — that’s big,” Guidie said. “We got a turnover there and hit a big pass play right after to go up 21 in the first quarter, and then I thought our defense kind of took over from there.”
Late in the half, Willard was finally able to get itself on the scoreboard with an 8-play, 53-yard drive ending in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Dawson to Garrett Rice.
In the second half, Carthage turned to ball-control mode with two long, clock-eating drives that consumed nearly 15 minutes and kept Willard’s offense watching from the sideline, for the most part.
“We had two possessions in the second half — a 14-play drive and a 15-play drive — and I don’t think we threw the ball,” Guidie said. “To do that against a really good defensive front, I was really proud of us.”
Willard’s defense thwarted a 15-play, 92-yard drive from Carthage with a goal-line stand, and then marched 93 yards in 12 plays for a 6-yard touchdown run from Marshall Swadley to cut the deficit to two scores.
Unfortunately for the host Tigers, Carthage’s ground-and-pound attack wouldn’t be denied the end zone a second time.
Carlton’s 5-yard touchdown run with 2:21 remaining — his fourth of the game — put Carthage up three scores and sealed the victory.
“[Carlton] was healthy tonight,” Guidie said. “He hasn’t been healthy for a while, and he felt really good — and when he feels good, he’s tough to stop.”
Carthage finished the game with 434 yards of offense (289 rushing and 145 passing).
Senior Tyler Mueller added 103 yards on 19 carries.
For Willard and head coach Brock Roweton, the game served as a good measuring stick for where the team is now and where it needs in just a few short weeks.
“The entire game, we could almost stop them — and then we could almost score,” Roweton said. “I don’t know how many times we were inside the 20 and didn’t score. We could almost get there, but just didn’t capitalize.”
Roweton was pleased with his team’s attitude and effort throughout the game against a daunting opponent.
“They’ve got weapons everywhere in their offense, and they’re fast,” Roweton said. “We could get them to third down, but we couldn’t quite get them out — if they needed three, they got three and a half — and it felt like the whole game was like that.”
With consistency and execution improving, Willard still hopes to pull everything together come district time.
“We’re not done yet,” Roweton said. “We love our kids, and they’ve got the right mindset. We’ve proven we can play with the big three and, one of these nights, we’re going to capitalize on everything and be very dangerous.”
Carthage (5-2) welcomes Republic in week 8, while Willard (2-5) visits Neosho.
Varsity Final: Carthage – 35, Willard – 14
Carthage 21 7 0 7 — 35
Willard 00 7 0 7 — 14
First quarter scoring
Carthage – Patrick Carlton 1-yard TD rush 0-7
(Marcus Huntley kick)
Carthage – Carlton 3-yard TD rush 0-14
Carthage – Huntley 40-yard TD rec from Carlton 0-21
Second quarter scoring
Carthage – Carlton 16-yard TD rush 0-28
Willard – Garrett Rice 3-yard TD rec from Reece Dawson 7-14
(Eli Aye kick)
Fourth quarter scoring
Willard – Marshall Swadley 6-yard TD rush 14-28
Carthage – Carlton 5-yard TD rush 14-35