By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
The multiple weapons and quick-strike capability of the Hillcrest offense brought Carthage’s season to an end Wednesday night.
Six of Hillcrest’s seven touchdowns came on drives of five or fewer plays and the Hornets ran away from the Tigers 49-20 in the Class 4 District 4 semifinals at Shumate Stadium.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have our hands full with their athleticism and speed,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said. “We couldn’t get stops when we needed to.”
Hillcrest (10-1) heads to Webb City on Monday for the district championship game. Carthage finishes its season at 8-3.
Hillcrest didn’t begin pulling away until the fourth quarter.
Carthage recovered a fumble on the second half’s opening kickoff and drove 56 yards in 11 plays, converting and fourth-and-2 and scoring on Seth Beckner’s 6-yard run.
Jordan Dangerfield’s 2-point conversion run pulled the Tigers within 21-20 with 6:32 left in the third quarter.
But, much as they did all night, the Hornets responded in a hurry.
Senior quarterback Jonah Hill — an Arkansas State commit and the Ozark Conference player of the year — rushed for 23 yards, passed 15 yards to Matt Rush and then scored on a 32-yard run for a quick three-play scoring drive that made it 28-20.
“I know that’s a frustrating feeling to come out there and run 80 yards in 13 or 14 plays like they did a couple times and then we come out and score in three,” said Hill, who was 9-of-13 passing for 117 yards while rushing 16 times for 130 yards. “But that’s the kind of offense they ran and we stopped it eventually.”
Carthage forced Hillcrest punts on the next two drives but couldn’t capitalize.
The Tigers were stopped at the Hornet 25, lost a fumble late in the third quarter and were intercepted by Rush early in the fourth.
Two plays after Rush’s interception Hill scored from three yards out to make it 35-20.
“They made some great stops against our offense there in the third quarter,” Guidie said. “We kind of had to get away from our game plan. We wanted to run and we did for our first four possessions. We ran it well and controlled the clock and had some long drives. But when they got up, we had to switch the game plan and they were able to take advantage of it with turnovers.”
Ironically, Hillcrest’s only scoring drive on the night that took more than five plays — a 13-play, 65-yard drive in the second quarter — may have been the toughest to swallow for Carthage.
After Hill converted a second-and-14 with a 15-yard pass to Johnson, he was sacked by Bryan Burns for a 14-yard loss to set up third-and-24. That was taken care of on the next play with a 24-yard pass to Rush.
Four plays later — after a lateral from Rush to Hill went out of bounds for a 13-yard loss — the Hornets wiped out a fourth-and-22 with a 25-yard pass from Hill to Rush. Two plays later Johnson scored from 17 yards out to make it 21-12.
“That’s the mentality you have to have as a team and as a football player, no matter what down it is or what the yardage it, it’s always possible,” Hill said. “The whole team knew that and we really executed the plays when we needed to.”
Those long third- and fourth-down conversions — along with a muffed kickoff that set up Hillcrest’s second score — loomed large for the Tigers, Guidie said.
“That was big,” he said. “We had two chances to get a stop and we didn’t make a play. And we didn’t make a play and recover that kickoff. If we can make a play and go into halftime up a touchdown, it may be a different story.”
Beckner rushed 31 times for 129 yards, ending his senior season with 1,935 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Carthage senior quarterback Jordan Musser had a solid night, completing 16 of 26 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns — a 21-yarder to Beckner on the game’s opening drive and a 35-yarder to Dangerfield.
“This hurts pretty bad,” Beckner said. “We wanted to play as hard as we could and take this as far as we could. We didn’t want this to end here tonight.”