CARTHAGE, Mo. — Carthage was down nine starters in Week 6 when it needed a fourth-quarter comeback to edge Branson 16-7 on the road.
Most of those starters were back on the gridiron for the Tigers on Friday night in a postseason rematch with the Pirates. And it showed.
Carthage scored touchdowns on its first seven drives and generated four takeaways as it downed Branson 48-10 in a Class 5 District 6 semifinal at David Haffner Stadium.
“I think we were a little bit of a different football team tonight than we were back in Week 6, for sure,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said.
With the triumph, the Tigers advanced to the district championship to take on Nixa, a 40-12 winner over Ozark, next Friday in Carthage. CHS is seeking a sixth consecutive district title.
“(Competing for district championships) each year never gets old,” Guidie said. “I think our kids have been here before, and hopefully they know how to handle it this coming week. This means a lot with this group of kids too. There’s been a lot of adversity this season it seems like, with injuries and whatnot. Just to be able to be here after all of those things is pretty special.”
Carthage amassed 367 yards of total offense and held its largest lead, 42-3, after running back Tyler Mueller logged his fourth touchdown on a 2-yard run with 7:35 remaining in the third quarter. The scoring drive was set up by a fumble recovery by Alex Martini that gave Carthage possession at the Branson 28-yard line.
Mueller also accounted for a touchdown on Carthage’s first drive of the second half, catching a screen pass from quarterback Patrick Carlton and eluding a swarm of defenders en route to a 49-yard score.
“We had that bye week and we really studied up on Branson to see what would we could improve from the last time we played them,” said Mueller, who finished as Carthage’s leading rusher with 96 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. “We definitely wanted to prove tonight that we’re Carthage, and we can run the ball and play physical on offense all night long. We’re on a mission for another district championship, and tonight was a good start.”
Following a 51-yard pass play by Branson that trimmed the Carthage lead to 42-10 midway through the third, Kale Schrader capped the scoring for the Tigers with a 14-yard touchdown reception just before the start of the fourth quarter.
Carlton finished 8-of-10 passing with 147 yards and two touchdowns, and he also logged 42 yards on the ground on eight attempts.
Carthage scored on its first four possessions to take a 28-3 lead into halftime.
The Tigers’ first two scores both followed Branson turnovers. An eight-minute opening drive by Branson ended with a Bobby Kendrick interception before Carthage marched 65 yards on its first drive for a touchdown. Running back Tyler Mueller found the end zone for CHS on an 8-yard run to put his team up 7-0 with 49 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“The way our defense responded to that first Branson drive was big because we talked about being mentally tough coming into tonight,” Guidie said. “We knew there was the potential for things to go wrong, and how we would respond to those instances would be huge. ... They had a long drive going and had us backed up pretty far, but we ended up intercepting them for the stop and then we scored. That’s the mental toughness we were looking for.”
The Branson offense then fumbled away its ensuing possession to give Carthage possession deep in Pirates’ territory. Mueller took advantage one play later with a 29-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead to 14-0 with 11:42 showing in the second quarter.
Carlton capped the scoring for Carthage in the second quarter with short touchdown runs on back-to-back drives before Branson logged its first score on a 33-yard field goal by Cristian Berumen as the half expired.
The Pirates were limited to 180 yards of total offense. Quarterback Tristan Pierce led the team with 94 yards and one touchdown on 8-of-12 passing.