CARTHAGE — Scott Surratt and the Carthage Bulldogs could easily point to the bright spots. They’ve got plenty to choose from.
Instead, the Bulldogs look back to a loss in the state semifinals a year ago, a round many programs would be satisfied with reaching.
The standard was not met in Carthage.
“It’s a good feeling to be back in the semifinals for us but you always go back to a dark moment and that was last year,” Surratt said. “We felt like we had an opportunity to win that semifinal game and we didn’t get it done.
“We’ve continued to remind our players that we have to play better than we did last year, better than we did last week and we have to play our best game of the year this week to move on.”
The bar doesn’t get any higher than in Carthage, which is set for its sixth state semifinal appearance in the past seven seasons against Lampasas at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Randall Reed Stadium in New Caney.
“Every season, once you win state and win multiple times, that’s the standard,” Carthage defensive lineman Quinton Owens said. “If you don’t get there, you feel like you’ve let a lot of people down.
“That’s the brand here. That’s what they expect. That’s what we expect. We were bounced last year in this round but I feel like we have a different drive, different motivation coming off that loss. I feel like we’re ready and we’re prepared.”
Owens, a Sam Houston State commit, helps lead a Bulldog defense that has led the charge back to the state semifinals.
Determined, if you couldn’t tell, is how he would describe a defense that has held opponents to 10.5 points per game and to 171.1 total yards per outing. Carthage’s defense in 2009 allowed 16.4 points per game in a 16-0 season.
‘Humming’ is how fellow lineman DJ Hicks describes the Dawg defense.
Owens has 13 of the 87 tackles for loss for Carthage. Linebacker Rayvon Ingram, the team’s leading tackler with 101, followed with 12. In the secondary, a unit that has allowed 4.3 yards per pass attempt, the Bulldogs have 19 interceptions, led by five from Miles Halton.
Front to back, Carthage’s defense has been stingy. Crandall put 21 points in the third round of the playoffs, the most allowed this season. Twelve opponents have scored less than 14.
“We’ve got experience and a brotherhood,” Owens said. “I feel like that is what sets us apart. We connect on a different level and can all bring something to the table. We all mess up but we all have each others backs and get each other motivated every day. We’re all here together.”
Confidence comes with the territory in program that is 55-6 in the playoffs with Surratt at the helm. That’s a state championship ring for every postseason loss in the past 12 seasons.
“They’re running to the ball and we’re very physical on that side of the ball,” Surratt said of the defense. “Coach (Darren) Preston and his staff have done a great job, not only with our schemes and adjustments through the game, but just instilling that mentality of playing extremely hard.”
Respect for the opponent and respect for the moment comes with it as well as the Bulldogs square off with a high-flying Lampasas team just two wins from meeting the Carthage standard.
“They’re a good team and I expect them to come out and play their hardest like everyone else does,” Hicks said. “We’re going to as well. We’ve just got to go out there and do what we have to do to get to the next round, to play next week.”
Carthage (14-0) vs. Lampasas (13-1)
Time: 7:30 p.m., tonight
Stadium: Randall Reed Stadium, Porter
Carthage: Scott Surratt (13th season, 162-28; 55-6 in playoffs)
Lampasas: Troy Rogers (4th season, 23-23)
Last week: Carthage 24, Midlothian Heritage 7; Lampasas 49, Liberty Hill 34
Up next: Winner will meet either Springtown or Waco La Vega in the Class 4A, Divion I state championship at 11 a.m., Friday, December 20 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Springtown (13-1) and La Vega (13-1) meet at 7 p.m. tonight in Midlothian.
Players to watch
Carthage: OL Ty’Kiest Crawford ... OL Tee Kellum ... OL Cade Johnson ... OL Connor Davis ... OL Karston Williams ... RB Mason Courtney (185 carries, 1,344 yards, 14 TDs; 34 catches, 400 yards, 4 TDs) ... WR Kelvontay Dixon (60 catches, 946 yards, 15 TDs; 195 rushing yards, 2 TDs) ... QB Kai Horton (221-362-5, 3,147 yards, 43 TDs) ... WR Kel Williams (47 catches, 812 yards, 10 TDs) ... WR Craig McNew (27 catches, 458 yards, 7 TDs) ... DL Quinton Owens (91 tackles, 13 TFL, 4 FF, 3 sacks) ... LB Rayvon Ingram (101 tackles, 12 TFL, 4 sacks) ... DL DJ Hicks (74 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 INTs) ... DL Kylon Lister (88 tackles, 10 TFL) ... LB Mason Bobo (81 tackles, 3 FF) ... S Cole Whitlock (79 tackles) ... DB Ja’Von King (9 PBU, 2 INTs) ... DB De’Aundre Bowman (9 PBU, 3 INTs) ... DB Miles Halton (5 INTs)
Lampasas: OL Austin Kielpinski ... OL John Long ... QB Ace Whitehead (No. 2; 237-331-4, 3,867 yards, 51 TDs; 119 carries, 701 yards, 21 TDs) ... RB Jack Jerome (No. 22; 206 carries, 1,351 yards, 12 TDs) ... RB Daunte Cuffie (No. 33; 93 carries, 789 yards, 12 TDs) ... WR Jaylon Porter (No. 5; 61 catches, 1,246 yards, 18 TDs) ... WR Cameron Everts (79 catches, 1,209 yards, 9 TDs) ... WR Michael Murray Jr. (No. 6; 53 catches, 955 yards, 16 TDs) ... WR Brenton Webb (No. 18; 34 catches, 366 yards, 8 TDs) ... LB Case Brister (190 tackles, 23 TFL, 11 sacks) ... OLB Koby Allen (175 tackles) ... LB Keagan Richardson (130 tackles) ... S Daunte Cuffie (121 tackles, 7 TFL, 6 sacks) ... S Isaiah Rhones (10 TFL) ... DL Owen Seaver (12 TFL, 8 sacks) ... S Clayton Bever (5 INTs, 7 PBU) ... DB Cade White (2 INTs, 7 PBU)
Did you know: Carthage is the visiting team ... Carthage is averaging 40.1 points and 426.5 yards (245.7 passing/180.8 rushing) and allowing 10.5 points and 171.1 yards (77.6 passing/93.5 rushing) per game. The Bulldogs are 14-0 against teams with a combined 91-72 record, including six playoff teams in the regular season and one team (Pleasant Grove) still alive in the postseason ... Lampasas averages 52.5 points and 508.8 yards (278.9 passing/229.9 rushing) per game and allows an average of 20.8 points per game. The Badgers are 13-1 against opponents with a combined 73-82 record, including five playoff teams in the regular season ... The Badgers lost in Week 3 to Lorena, 31-30, which finished 5-5. The 31 points is a season-low for Lampasas, who has scored 50-plus points in eight games this season ... Carthage is in the semifinals for the sixth time in the past seven seasons ... Lampasas is in the state semifinals for the first time since 1986. The 13 wins is a school-record for the Badgers, who recorded 12 wins in 1991 when HC Rogers was the quarterback ... Whitehead accounted for all 49 points this past week with six touchdown passes, a rushing touchdown and seven point-after attempts
He said it: “Their quarterback is a great player — 51 touchdowns to four interceptions. He throws it all over the yard and is a good runner, too. We’re going to have to defend sideline-to-sideline, deep — everywhere. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Offensively, we’ve got to execute better in the redzone. We had eight possessions last week and scored on four of them. We bogged down in the redzone three times and that can’t happen this week but we’re going to get that fixed,” — Surratt
Twitter-sized preview: Carthage’s defense faces its tallest task to date against an explosive Lampasas team. The Bulldogs bring length and physicality up front and athletes to match speed in the back. That’s the premier matchup in this one but the Bulldogs will need a crisp showing on offense as well.