In the eight previous football meetings between Carl Junction and Carthage, just one game was determined by less than two touchdowns.

Close games haven’t necessarily been the trend between the two Central Ozark Conference foes — especially in the last two seasons when Carthage claimed 35-7 and 42-18 wins over the Bulldogs. However, the belief on both sides is that tonight could play out in a different fashion.

Carl Junction plays host to Carthage at 7 at Bulldog Stadium.

“We expect a battle,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said. “I think they look much improved from a year ago, and like us, they come into the week with a 1-0 record. We tell our kids all the time that you can’t afford to overlook any given opponent, and that’s certainly true this week. It’ll take four quarters of focus, four quarters of execution.”

“Carthage is obviously the defending Class 5 champions, and they always put talented athletes on the field,” Carl Junction coach Doug Buckmaster said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. But that said, I believe our kids will rise to the occasion. We’re a different team and a much more confident team. So we look forward to the challenge and look forward to an exciting game.”

Both Carthage and Carl Junction come off lopsided season-opening victories that were highlighted by offensive performances.

The Tigers secured a 35-14 home win over Ozark thanks to nearly 500 yards of total offense, as well as a five-touchdown showing by sophomore running back Luke Gall, who finished with 259 yards on 18 carries. Third-year starting quarterback Patrick Carlton totaled 173 yards of offense and went 6-of-9 passing.

“They appear to be a very good offensive football team,” Buckmaster said. They’re very good at quarterback and running back, and they appear to be very good up front on the offensive line. It’s one of those things where it might not be realistic to completely shut them down, but you want to do your best to contain them as much as possible.”

Carl Junction, a 29-12 winner at Willard, was sparked by the return of starting quarterback Alex Baker as he completed 23 of 38 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Drew Patterson, who filled in for an injured Baker most of last season, hauled in seven catches for 130 yards and one touchdown at the wide receiver position, and Cole Stewart caught eight passes for 91 yards.

“It looks like they’ve gone back to what they like to do, which is to spread it out, run some one-back and three-by-one, two-by-two sets,” Guidie said of the CJ offense. “They have pretty aggressive play calling and like to take shots down the field. I thought they did a good job of big-playing Willard. They’re very athletic with a lot of speed on the field. And with Alex Baker back, you can tell his leadership means a lot to what they’re doing.”

“Alex brings us another dimension at quarterback with his ability to throw the ball down the field,” Buckmaster said. “He’s an intelligent player and he’s a competitor. So having him back in at quarterback brings us some things that we’ve probably needed. … With Alex back, it also benefits us to have Drew at wide receiver. They’re both playmakers, and having them both on the field at the same time makes us better.”

Carthage holds a 6-2 series advantage over Carl Junction since 2010.

Attention fans

Carl Junction’s school district announced that there are not any seating limitations in Bulldog stadium. Fans are encouraged to wear masks and social distance.