NEW CANEY — It was a pressure-packed night from the start on Friday night at Randall Reed Stadium.
But it was never too much for the Carthage Bulldogs.
Driving for the win, Carthage put the ball in the hands of its playmaker and with that, the Bulldogs are heading back to the state final.
Kelvontay Dixon hauled in a three-yard pass from quarterback Kai Horton with 13 seconds left to lift the six-time champion Bulldogs to a 49-42 win over Lampasas in a Class 4A, Division I semifinal.
With the win, Carthage (15-0) advances to its eighth state championship appearance overall and seventh under head coach Scott Surratt. Lampasas, who tied things up with 2:49 left to play, concludes its season at 13-2.
It’ll be a familiar face awaiting the Bulldogs in the 4A, D-I final in Waco La Vega, who advanced with a 27-14 win over Springtown to move to 14-1. The tilt is set for 11 a.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
No lead was ever safe on Friday night as Carthage raced to a 14-0 lead. Lampasas then posted 20 unanswered points before a pick six, one of three combined overall, put the Bulldogs ahead at halftime, 21-20.
Carthage grabbed a nine-point lead on the opening drive of the third quarter with a surprise two-point run and the shootout was on.
The two teams exchanged scores the rest of the way with five of the final six possessions ending in the endzone.
Technically, all six.
After falling behind, Lampasas, as it did throughout, moved into Carthage territory and had a shot inside the waning seconds but the heave was batted away from the Carthage secondary.
For Carthage, Horton finished 17-of-32 passing for 351 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The junior went 10-of-13 for 204 in the second half.
Dixon hauled in six passes for 146 yards, including a 95-yard catch-and-run score that gave the senior a 1,000-yard receiving season.
Mason Courtney churned out 92 rushing yards — 64 coming on a drive to open the third quarter. He also hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass and had four catches for 60 yards overall.
Junior back Kavonte Brown-Hoskins raced 43 yards to the house in the first half and had a key 29-yard catch in the second half for Carthage, who finished with 170 rushing yards and 351 passing yards overall.
Defensively, Ja’Von King opened the scoring with a 70-yard pick six and Mason Bobo took away Lampasas’ momentum and lead with a 65-yard pick six as time expired in the the first half.
Rayvon Ingram, Quinton Owens and DJ Hicks also came up big for the Bulldog defense against a potent Lampasas attack.
For the Badgers, junior quarterback Ace Whitehead finished 23-of-42 passing for 392 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Cameron Everts had two touchdown catches in a massive 12-catch, 231-yard night and Jaylon Porter had five snags for 104 yards, a touchdown and a game-tying two-point catch with 2:49 left.
Case Brister had a 35-yard pick six in the first half for the Badgers, who matched its 1986 team in its deepest playoff run to the semifinals.
After Bobo’s pick six, Carthage held onto the lead the rest of the way. Narrowly.
Lampasas had an answer each step of the way, including converting a fourth down and a third down on a 13-play, 68-yard drive to pull within two, 36-34, with 9:10 to play.
On the next drive, Horton connected with Brown-Hoskins for 29 yards on a 3rd-and-7 before Horton connected with Courtney on a five-yard score. The ensuing point-after attempt was missed, making it one possession game for the Badgers.
Lampasas converted a 4th-and-14 with a 34-yard connection from Whitehead to Everts and the duo hooked up again on a 12-yard touchdown to pull within two, 42-40. Whitehead then hit Porter to tie it at 42-all.
Carthage converted a 3rd-and-5 and got a Lampasas pass interference on a Dixon target to push the ball into the redzone.
Then Carthage’s playmaker took control on a jump pass that Dixon plucked away from the defender to make it 49-42.
Lampasas didn’t go quietly, hitting on a 37-yard pass from Whitehead to Porter before a host of Bulldogs swatted away the last-effort shot to send the Bulldogs back to AT&T Stadium.