In a battle of two top three ranked teams in the state of Missouri in their respective classes, the Class 5 second-ranked Carthage Tigers used the big play to build an early lead and never looked back in a 34-22 win over the Class 6 third-ranked Joplin Eagles on Friday at Junge Field.
“The bottom line, next week becomes even more important,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said about his Tigers’ win over Joplin. “You have to continue to show up every single day. This (win) just made Republic Week a must-win situation. I think we will get that to our kids and they’ll have to respond.”
Carthage kept its streak of holding opponents scoreless in the first quarter alive while building a 14-0 lead thanks to a big play and a long scoring drive. Carthage used a pair of big plays that led to scores in the second quarter sandwiched around Joplin’s first touchdown to take a 27-7 lead into the intermission. Carthage scored early in the second half to push the lead to 34-7 but Joplin rallied with two unanswered scores to cut the lead to 12 with less than five minutes to play. The Eagles recovered an onside kick but were unable to put any more points on the board before time expired.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted, and a lot of that has to do with Carthage being a really good football team,” Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said. “We have a lot to learn from this game. So, we are going to get to work, watch film and get better.”
Carthage, which improved to 7-0 and in the driver’s seat of the Central Ozark Conference, gained 489 yards of offense on 58 plays. Joplin, which fell to 6-1 on the season, came into the contest averaging 42 points per game. The Eagles were limited to 22 points, but gained 351 yards on 47 plays.
“I think what we did well defensively was cover,” Guidie said. “I thought our defensive backs were exceptional, and that’s not an easy offense to defend. … In the run game, our front seven did their thing. They weren’t able to move the ball consistently by running, and I think that is a credit to our defensive line and linebackers.”
“They were mixing up their coverages and giving us some difficulty with that,” Jasper said of Carthage’s effort on defense. “We just didn’t sustain drives and execute well enough on offense.”
Carthage needed just two plays from scrimmage to find the end zone, as RB Luke Gall ripped off a 58-yard touchdown on his first carry of the game to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 11:08 on the clock.
The Eagles were forced to punt at midfield on their opening possession, with Carthage taking over at its own 11-yard line. The Tigers drove 89 yards on 11 plays with QB Caden Kabance punching the ball in from 2 yards out on third-down-and-goal to make the score 14-0 with 2:49 left in the first quarter. Gall highlighted the drive with a 42-yard rush.
“The Blue Hogs are crazy,” Kabance said about the play of his offensive line. “They do everything they can every practice and every single game. It’s great. And Luke, that kid can run.”
Carthage started the second quarter with a new possession at its own 40-yard line, and after a holding call on first down, the Tigers made the most of their second play from scrimmage again as Cale Patrick ripped off a 69-yard touchdown run on a reverse to push the lead to 21-0 with 11:27 to play in the second period.
Joplin got on the scoreboard on its ensuing possession after Drew VanGilder found paydirt from 3 yards out with 5:55 left in the first half. The touchdown was set up by a 23-yard completion from Wright to Bruce Wilbert, who hauled in the over-the-shoulder catch on fourth-down-and-20 from the 25.
Carthage continued to go to the big play, as Kabance found Gall in the flat on second down of the ensuing possession that went for a 66-yard touchdown to make the score 27-7 with 4:48 to play in the first half.
“Those early big plays were huge,” Guidie said. “We talked about probably having to grind out some yards before the game and how it would be OK to have a 4-yard gain and just keep doing what we are doing without panicking. … That was our mentality coming in.
“We felt like we would be able to grind it out and maybe hit a big play here or there, and that is a credit to our kids up front. You have to be patient in games like this and let some things happen. … It’s tough on an offensive line, but our guys were patient, sorted it out, communicated and we hit some big plays because of it.”
After Joplin was forced to punt to open the second half, Carthage grinded away at a drive before Gall popped a 39-yard touchdown run with 4:32 left in the third quarter to push the Tigers’ lead to 34-7.
“Those big plays were disheartening for sure, but we were able to fight back,” Jasper said. “Those are the times you have to find a way to make a tackle and make them snap it again.”
The Eagles found the scoreboard for the second time when Wright went deep up the sideline and dropped a pass in over the shoulder of Terrance Gibson, who sprinted to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 34-14 with 10:09 left in the game.
Joplin put in a bid late for a rally when Wright found his brother All Wright for a 6-yard touchdown. Always Wright completed a pass to Wilbert to convert the 2-point try and cut the Carthage lead to 34-22 near the five-minute mark.
The Eagles recovered the ensuing onside kick to regain possession, but Joplin went four-and-out for a turnover on downs to essentially end the comeback bid.
Gall rushed 23 times for 220 yards and two touchdowns while catching two passes for 64 yards and a score. Kabance carried the ball 20 times for 85 yards, while completing 9-of-14 passes for 114 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Hudson Moore caught five passes for 38 yards.
Always Wright completed 17-of-34 passes for 297 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Gibson caught six passes for 129 yards and a touchdown, while VanGilder carried seven times for 14 yards and a score.
Carthage hosts Republic, while Joplin hits the road for a matchup with Branson.