CARTHAGE, Mo. — Carthage football head coach Jon Guidie wanted his team to punt late in the first half, but then his offensive front came to him with a different idea.
“We were going to punt there on fourth-and-1, and they called timeout and I went out there and said, ‘Guys, we’re going to have to punt this one. We can’t risk it here,’ ” Guidie said. “And our offensive line said, ‘No. Put it on us, put it on us.’ Right then, I knew it was on.”
So in a one-score game, Guidie heeded the words of his offensive line and rolled the dice. The gamble paid off with a first-down conversion on a three-yard run by quarterback Patrick Carlton. And seven plays later, Carlton bulldozed his way into the end zone to give Carthage a 21-6 lead right before halftime.
With conference and district implications on the line Friday night, Carthage once again resorted to its dominant rush attack to claim a 35-12 win over Nixa in a regular-season finale at David Haffner Stadium.
The triumph secured an undefeated regular season for Carthage as well as a No. 1 seed in the Class 5 District 6 playoffs that kick off next Friday. Carthage, edging Webb City by 0.36 points at the top of the district standings, gets a first-round bye to open the playoffs before hosting the winner of Republic and Branson in the district semifinals on Nov. 6.
As for the Central Ozark Conference title, it’s unclear whether Carthage will be named the outright champion or co-champion with once-beaten Webb City. This is due to a possibility of Carthage having to forfeit its Week 4 game with Webb City that was cancelled because of a mass quarantine at Carthage. An announcement will be made after separate discussions involving the COC athletics directors, principals and superintendents.
“(The conference title) matters because I know it matters to our players,” Guidie said. “I think, no matter what, they deserve a conference championship. I mean, undefeated regular season. You guys do the math and figure that up. But that’s why it’s important, because I know it’s important to those guys. It’s a goal they had coming in. We did it in 2016 and we haven’t done it since. That’s something pretty special to those players and to our coaches.”
After taking a two-score lead into halftime, Carthage received the kickoff to start the second half and threatened to add to its lead before a 50-yard run on a jet sweep by Cale Patrick ended in a lost fumble that was recovered by Nixa in the end zone for a touchback.
Nixa, officially starting its ensuing drive from its 10-yard line after a penalty, took advantage of the takeaway and went 90 yards in 18 plays for a touchdown. After a missed point-after attempt, Nixa was within 21-12 with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Following a Carthage punt, Nixa had another opportunity to cut into the lead early in the fourth quarter before Carthage defensive back Davion King, a sophomore, stymied Nixa’s momentum with his first interception of the season.
“I love it that he (King) got it because they were picking on him in the series before, and he gave up a couple of pass plays there,” Guidie said. “For him to come back and get that interception, that’s going to be really big for his confidence going forward. He’s a sophomore. He shouldn’t be out here and he should be playing Monday night. But he’s out here in this atmosphere and this environment, and he stepped up and made a huge play for us.”
The Carthage offense capitalized on King’s takeaway 11 plays later when Carlton logged his fourth and final touchdown of the night on a one-yard run, ballooning the Carthage lead to 28-12 with 3:57 remaining.
Carlton tallied 102 yards on 26 carries, and he completed eight of 12 passes for 95 yards.
Sophomore running back Luke Gall totaled 76 yards on 18 carries and accounted for Carthage’s final touchdown on a short run with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Gall’s presence was equally felt by Nixa on the defensive side of the ball. Also a starting linebacker, Gall logged a pair of tackles for loss.
“Again, here we go with another sophomore who plays every snap,” Guidie said of Gall. “I mean, he never comes out. … Every play for him is a physical play on offense, and then he turns around on defense and does what he does. He’s a very special player. He’s already great, and he’s going to be really, really good.”
Patrick chipped in 91 yards on just six carries for the Carthage offense, which totaled 271 yards on the ground.
An acrobatic catch by Justin Sneed on a 40-yard pass from Carlton set up the touchdown that put Carthage up by two scores just before halftime. It marked the third straight score by Carthage after Nixa opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown run by running back Ramone Green on the first play.
Green finished with 135 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Nixa, however, was limited to 12 points despite averaging 36 points per game heading into the night.
“You take away that first run, I thought our defense was fantastic,” Guidie said. “I thought they were really, really good. They shut down their running back after that and were really good in pass coverage. They (Nixa) do a lot of a lot of good things with their (run-pass options), and you have to be disciplined. And I thought our backs did an excellent job.”