CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Carthage defense put a stranglehold on its opponent for a second consecutive week on Friday, limiting Carl Junction to 139 yards and one late-game touchdown in a 35-7 triumph in the Tigers’ home opener at David Haffner Stadium.
“Oh, man, I’m just so proud of those guys,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said of his defense. “I think they kind of flew under the radar heading into the season just because of the hype surrounding our quarterback and running back. But that’s two straight weeks that these dudes came out, played hard and competed with everything they had.”
The Carthage defense shut out Nixa in a 35-0 road victory in Week 1. On Friday, the Tigers had built a 35-0 lead and subbed in its reserve players before Carl Junction (0-2) got on the board with 53-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
A nine-yard touchdown run by quarterback Garret Taylor marked Carl Junction’s first score of the season. But outside of that, the Bulldogs came up empty handed on eight drives and only advanced past midfield three times.
“Our defense has been awesome and I have a lot of faith in those guys,” Carthage quarterback Patrick Carlton said. “A lot of people felt like they were probably going to be an underdog this year, but they’ve just gone out and shown that they have the ability to take over games. It’s a luxury to have those guys on your side.”
For Carlton and the Carthage offense, the night got off to a slow start with back-to-back scoreless drives. But a scoreless first quarter was followed by a 14-point second quarter for the Tigers, who found the end zone on drives of 99 and 71 yards.
The first scoring drive immediately followed a 60-yard punt by the Bulldogs that was downed at the CHS 1-yard line. But seven plays later, the Tigers (2-0) drew first blood with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Carlton to Silas Templeton.
Following a quick three-and-out for the CJ offense, Carthage added to its lead on a three-yard touchdown run by Carlton. The Tigers had one more opportunity to score at the end of the second quarter, but after a 20-yard rush by Carlton that brought Carthage to the CJ 2-yard line, time expired to send the game to halftime with a 14-0 score.
“It was really similar to our first game with Webb City,” Carl Junction coach Doug Buckmaster said. “We came out and played hard and played really good defense for about a quarter and a half. But then when we got down by two touchdowns, it was like our players thought the game was over. … Keeping Webb City and Carthage to 14 points at half isn’t an easy thing to do, and quite frankly, we probably could have kept both teams to seven. But we have to figure out how to finish these games and not get down on ourselves when we’re down a couple touchdowns.”
Carthage applied more offensive pressure at the start of the second half and ended up totaling 21 points in the third quarter.
Running back Tyler Mueller, who had a relatively quiet first half with just 15 yards on six carries, opened the third quarter with a 42-yard run to immediately put the Tigers in CJ territory. Seven plays later, he scored his first touchdown of the night on a two-yard run.
Mueller ended up accounting for all three of Carthage’s touchdowns in the third quarter — also scoring on runs of 83 and six yards — and finished the night with 177 yards on 13 carries.
“We weren’t great up front until we started making some adjustments in the second quarter,” Guidie said. “We know that kids are going to key on Tyler. He’s such a good player. But our offensive line started to figure it out and opened up some holes for both Patrick and Tyler.”
Carlton ended the game with 148 rushing yards on 18 carries and 133 yards on 8-of-14 passing. In total, Carthage amassed 517 yards of offense.
The Carthage defense ended up forcing three turnovers — two on downs and one takeaway on an interception by defensive back Justin Sneed in the third quarter.
The Carl Junction offense, which used three quarterbacks throughout the game, finished with 86 yards on the ground and 63 through the air. Taylor, who played QB and wide receiver, logged 61 yards of total offense while QB Drew Patterson logged 85 yards.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve found our identity on offense, but at least tonight we showed at times that we have a pulse,” Buckmaster said. “I couldn’t say the same of our performance against Webb City. And, you know, it’s not easy operating with three quarterbacks like we did tonight. But we’ll go back and look at the film to find out what worked and what didn’t. We’re obviously a bit shorthanded right now. So some of these guys will have to grow up quick. This season is just beginning, and it’s up to these guys to get it turned around.”