OZARK, M0. — The Carthage Tigers wasted no time shaking off any offseason rust that had accumulated in their season-opening matchup against Ozark on Friday.
On just the second play from scrimmage, senior defensive end Max Williams scooped up a fumble and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, giving Carthage a 7-0 lead before the offense had set foot on the field.
When it did get a chance, the Tiger offense picked up right where it left off last fall, cruising to a 49-14 victory.
“You know, we jumped on them early with that fumble recovery, it kind of set the tone there,” said coach Jon Guidie. “I thought offensively we were really, really efficient in the first half and did some nice things. There was one possession there that got away from us, but mostly I thought we were really efficient.”
In his first start as quarterback, senior Caden Kabance had four touchdowns and 166 yards on the ground, including a 92-yard dash in the second quarter after one of three turnovers on downs Carthage forced on Ozark.
“He’s a kid that coming into the year certainly had a lot of pressure on him to fill the shoes that Patrick Carlton left,” Guidie said. “Patrick being a three-year starter for us, and as good as he was, you know, Caden stepped into that role and to be as productive as he was Week 1, says a lot about him, says a lot about his character and certainly his abilities as an athlete and a quarterback.”
Kabance wasn’t the only Carthage Tiger with a big play as senior running back/linebacker Luke Gall took the first play of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown. Also scoring for Carthage on the night was senior Cale Patrick, who took a sweep around the left end 8 yards for his touchdown.
On defense, it was a matter of bend-don’t-break for Carthage as Ozark threatened in Carthage territory multiple times. Three times, Ozark began a drive at its own 41 or closer to the end zone, and plays of 58 and 69 yards on two other drives looked to set up scoring chances for them, but none translated into points for the Tigers. The results of those drives: Three turnovers on downs and two punts.
“We kind of talked about that before the game, who handles adversity better?” Guidie said. ”We gave up those two big plays defensively, but we ran them down, we pursued and we stopped a touchdown on both of them. And our defense did a good job of bowing up in those opportunities, stopping them and getting the ball back.”
Ozark’s two touchdowns came late in the game as Carthage had sat a slew of regulars on both sides of the ball.
“I think that’s a big part of building a program is having the ability to do that,” Guidie said. “Those young kids work so hard, they work as hard as anybody during the week, running scout teams and doing their best to mimic the other team’s offense and defense that we’re seeing that week. To give those guys a chance to go into varsity football, they were so excited and we were excited for them.”
Carthage will host Carl Junction next week at David Haffner Stadium, a rematch of a game a year ago where the Tigers prevailed 21-20 thanks to a late touchdown pass from Carlton with just 5:53 to play.