CARTHAGE, Mo. — It was billed as one of the most highly-anticipated prep football matchups in southwest Missouri.
Webb City, however, quickly eliminated most of the night's suspense.
The Cardinals scored the game’s first two touchdowns and led by as many as 28 points before settling for a 42-21 win over previously-unbeaten Carthage in the Class 5 District 6 championship on Friday night at David Haffner Stadium.
The triumph secured a 21st consecutive district title for Webb City, which advances to the state quarterfinals to take on Lebanon, a 52-18 victor over Glendale, next Friday at Lebanon High School. The Cardinals are seeking a second straight state championship after claiming the Class 4 title last season.
“I’m amazed at the kids’ efforts, how hard they played,” Webb City coach John Roderique said. “We had a fantastic week of practice. … One of the things we’ve found out is you don’t really know a lot about yourselves sometimes when you play really good people. I remember talking to the coach from Nixa after that game (28-0 victory), I said, ‘We haven’t played that well all year.’ I felt like playing that team brought out the best in us. And I had that feeling a little bit tonight.”
Carthage, the defending Class 5 champion, was denied a seventh consecutive district title and saw its season come to a close with a 9-1 record. The loss also snapped the Tigers’ 18-game winning streak that dated back to October of 2019.
“The result tonight doesn’t dictate who they are as people and who they’re going to become as people,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said of his players after the game. “We’re still very proud of them.”
It was a contest defined by turnovers and opportunistic offense, and Webb City was the overwhelming beneficiary of both. In the first half, the Cardinals capitalized on a pair of Carthage turnovers and turned them into 14 points as they built an eventual 28-7 halftime lead.
Perhaps Carthage’s costliest turnover came in the latter stages of the first half when a Webb City punt was muffed on the return attempt and recovered by junior Cohl Vaden, giving the Cardinals the ball at the Carthage 43-yard line with about two minutes to go till halftime.
Webb City went on to score two plays later on a 24-yard touchdown pass from senior Clay Gayman to senior wide receiver Mekhi Garrard, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 21 points right before intermission.
“It was huge,” Guidie said of the sequence late in the first half. “We worked on our (punt returns) all week long. We didn’t like where we were at with it. We put two kids back to ensure we were going to field it, but he tried to come up and make a play on it and missed it. Then we give up the big fade for a score there.”
Adding to Carthage’s precarious situation at the game’s midway point was the fact that Webb City would receive the kickoff to start the second half. And again, the Webb City offense did exactly what it wanted, going on an 80-yard, time-consuming drive that was capped by a 39-yard touchdown run by senior running back Devrin Weathers.
Carthage suddenly faced its biggest deficit of the season, 35-7, with 6:08 left in the third quarter.
“You try to control the game with your offense, and that’s grinding it out and getting first downs. And I thought we did that tonight. The quarterback played well. Guys up front played well. I thought we had a good plan coming in, and the kids executed it pretty well.”
Webb City finished with 349 yards of offense, with 246 coming in the run game and 103 via the pass.
From a yardage standpoint, the Carthage offense was similarly productive to Webb City with 340 yards. However, the Tigers only accounted for two offensive touchdowns — both in the fourth quarter — and punted or turned the ball over on five of seven drives.
“Obviously we made some mistakes, and give (Webb City) credit for a lot of those,” Guidie said. “A lot of mistakes by us, but you give them credit, too, because they force you into making those mistakes.”
Carthage’s first offensive score came with a little more than eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter when senior quarterback Patrick Carlton found the end zone on a 5-yard run.
The Cardinals responded in the very next series with Vaden reaching pay dirt on a 9-yard carry before Carthage closed the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Carlton to sophomore Hudson Moore in the game’s final minute.
Early in the game, Carthage took its first drive to near midfield before Webb City junior Cooper Crouch intercepted a pass and went 20 yards on the return. The takeaway set up the Cardinals’ first score as Weathers found the end zone on a 9-yard run for a quick 7-0 lead.
Following a Carthage punt and another Webb City touchdown, this time on a short run by junior running back Dupree Jackson, Carthage senior Justin Sneed gave the Tigers some life on an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that trimmed the Webb City advantage to 14-7.
The Cardinals then went on a 21-point surge to balloon the lead to 35-7 by the 6:08-mark of the third quarter.
For Webb City, Gayman converted four of seven passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, and he also rushed for 55 yards on 12 attempts. Weathers was the team’s leading receiver with 154 yard and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Vaden accounted for one receiving touchdown and one rushing touchdown.
Carlton paced the Carthage offense with 139 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. He also threw for one touchdown and completed nine of 21 passes for 122 yards.