Carthage runs past Nixa to finish unbeaten run through COC

By Kary Booher (For

NIXA – The eye-black running down his face and his uniform pretty ragged, the senior center of the Carthage Tigers looked the part of proud warrior who had proven a point.

For the past year, Gavin VanGilder had heard folks questioning Carthage’s league title. Now there is no doubt. The offensive line made sure of it.

Class 5’s No. 2-ranked Carthage won the Central Ozark Conference outright in a 49-14 victory against Class 6’s No. 6-ranked and injury-depleted Nixa Eagles on Friday night at Eagle Stadium.

Call it old-school to the core. The offensive line plowed the way for 317 yards on the ground on a night when Carthage scored on all five of its first-half possessions.

“It means so much. Last year, there was all that controversy about who was sharing it (with Webb City),” VanGilder said. Carthage and Webb City did not play last year, due to Covid. “It just feels good to prove to everybody we are the team to beat.”

Carthage hopped on the bus with a few stories to tell, such as:

– Junior rusher Luke Gall going for a game-high 172 yards on 18 carries – 141 of those before halftime.
– Gall, Cale Patrick and quarterback Caden Kabance each rushing for two TDs, and Kabance throwing for one.
– The Carthage defense limiting Nixa to only 14 points only two weeks after the Eagles had dropped 41 points on Webb City here in Christian County.
– Its offensive line, which not only provided the blocking but the technique and footwork that all worked in rhythm.

As Nixa coach John Perry put it, “They are technique sound. They are not as good as they were last year. But they do things right. They’ve got their feet in the right place. And then they hand it off to an animal. That dude is big, strong and fast.”

Gall put it this way, “I haven’t played one game this year where there weren’t open holes.”


That line features VanGilder, guards Malachi Housh and Anthony Strickland, and tackles Drew Musche and Garrett Lilienkamp. They allowed Carthage to run its jet sweeps as well as to let Gall bull his way between the tackles.

Patrick went for 132 yards on only eight carries, including a 43-yard TD run on the Tigers’ first series. Carthage then led 14-0 by the end of the first quarter after Kabance’s 1-yard run, one play after he connected with Tyler Willis on a 32-yard deep crossing route.

And then the line proved even more important on what arguably were the game’s most notable TDs.

Gall broke off a 48-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 after Nixa had pulled within 14-7. Then, after Carthage intercepted a pass in the end zone, he broke off a 61-yard run on the next series, eventually setting up Kabance’s 2-yard TD run.

“We talked about that all week long,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said of the line’s technique. “We weren’t sure what front (Nixa) was going to come out in this week. They had shown just about every front there is. But once our kids identified it, they were able to communicate it and play really fast and really efficient.”

It was a tough way to go for Nixa, as it was hoping to force a three-way tie in the COC.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they were without running backs Spencer Ward and Ramone Greene, Jr. as well as outside linebacker Antonio Perez, their second-leading tackler.

Jordyn Turner did haul in a 36-yard TD pass from Connor Knatcal to pull Nixa to within 14-7, and Austin McCracken did break off a 56-yard TD run that narrowed the gap to 28-14 late in the first half.

However, on the opening series, Carthage scored a third-down sack after Nixa had reached the Tigers’ 13-yard line on the opening series. There also was the interception and, after that, Carthage’s defense tightened up.

Nixa didn’t score in the final 26 ½ minutes and crossed midfield only twice in that timeframe, the third being late in the third quarter.

“They’re a good football team. We’re a good football team that didn’t play good tonight,” Perry said, adding it will make his team better. “We didn’t make enough plays. Offensively without the two running backs, you have to depend being able to spread it out. We just didn’t make enough plays to begin with.

“We had a little bit of an issue with blocking on the edge. They knocked down a ball and pressured the quarterback. And, defensively, we just couldn’t get them off the field.”


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