Carthage’s stellar football season ends in semifinals

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Carthage senior wide receiver Jayden Morgan catches Carthage’s first touchdown of the game in the north endzone with 24.7 seconds left in the first half to cut Vianney’s lead to 15-7 going into halftime. It was the first of three touchdown catches for Morgan on the game. John Hacker / The Carthage Press

In the moments after a 15-point defeat that ended his team’s hopes for a state championship berth, Carthage coach Jon Guidie gathered his players one final time on the field at David Haffner Stadium and reassured them.

“I just wanted them to know that we still care about them, we still love them, we’re proud of them,” Guidie said after last Saturday’s 36-21 loss to Vianney. “Those seniors set the bar very, very high. Been to the semifinals three out of the last four years, that group, which has never been done in our history. We want them to understand once the dust settles how much they mean to us and how great they did this year.”

The loss marked the end of a stellar run for Carthage’s senior class, which helped the Tigers to a 41-10 record the last four seasons and four deep runs in the Class 5 playoffs.

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In 2015, Carthage went 11-2 and advanced to the semifinals for the first time in more than 40 years, eventually losing 43-19 at Chaminade. The Tigers were state quarterfinalists in 2016, losing 37-20 at Columbia Battle and finishing 10-2. Carthage went 9-4 in 2017 and suffered a 54-13 loss at eventual state champion Staley in the semifinals.

This year the Tigers finished with an 11-2 record and made another Class 5 semifinals appearance. Again, the school’s first-ever state championship appearance proved elusive.

Vianney 36, Carthage 21

Carthage drove into Vianney territory each of its first two possessions but turned it over on downs and fumbled. The Tigers trailed 15-0 before sophomore quarterback Patrick Carlton connected with senior receiver Jayden Morgan on a 20-yard touchdown pass just 24 seconds before halftime.

Vianney opened the second half with a 74-yard scoring drive, and after forcing a Carthage punt, scored on a 68-yard halfback pass to lead 29-7.

Carthage got things going in the fourth quarter. Carlton connected with Morgan for a 61-yard touchdown at the 8:39 mark to cut it to 29-14, but Vianney answered right back to lead 36-14 with 6:10 remaining.

Morgan hauled in a 12-yard touchdown at the 2:43 mark for the final score of the game.

The senior receiver had a huge day in his final game for the Tigers. He caught eight passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Carlton completed 18-of-29 passes for 242 yards and three scores. He rushed 20 times for 98 yards.

The Tigers finished with 367 yards of offense. That was actually eight yards more than Vianney, but the Griffins had a huge day from senior athlete Kyren Williams. He rushed for 132 yards and two scores on 18 carries and also returned an interception for a touchdown in the first half. But wait, there’s more: Williams threw the 68-yard touchdown pass to Fahreed Cheeks in the third quarter.

Carthage committed three turnovers – all in the second quarter – and the Tigers put the ball on the ground a few times more. It was an uncharacteristic showing from the Tigers, who had committed just 12 turnovers in 12 games before Saturday and entered with a plus-12 turnover margin.

The 36 points allowed were also a season high for the Carthage defense, which had limited opponents to 226 yards and 13.6 points per game. In the playoffs the Tigers were even better, allowing barely 11 points per game. Vianney, however, had scored an average of 60 in three previous postseason wins.

1968 semifinals

Carthage’s 2015 trip to the Class 5 semifinals was the school’s first since 1968, well before the playoff system looked like it does today. The Tigers finished the 1968 regular season 9-1 and went 9-0 in conference play to win the Big Ten Conference. That was enough to earn a berth in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class AAA playoffs.

Only four schools made the playoffs, so the Tigers were automatically in the semifinals. Coach Bob Fletcher’s team traveled to Marshall on Saturday, Nov. 23, 1968 to play the Owls at the Missouri Valley College football stadium, which was shared with Marshall High School. The Tigers lost, and a week later Marshall lost to Perryville in the championship.

That Carthage team was led by a trio of running backs in Tom Webb, Darrell Darrow and Ted Gallion.

Season notes

Carlton, who began the year as the team’s backup quarterback, put up some eye-popping numbers. Pressed into starting duty after senior Zeke Sappington suffered a hand injury in the week four game against Neosho, Carlton accounted for 35 touchdowns despite starting just nine games.

He finished the year completing 65-of-98 passes for 1,115 yards and 14 touchdowns, while rushing 194 times for 1,354 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Sappington started 17 games in his career for Carthage. He missed five games after the injury and returned in limited action during the playoffs. He completed 14 passes this year for 242 yards and rushed 59 times for 509 yards and seven touchdowns. He ran the offense for Carthage’s third possession against Vianney and kept the ball for a short run on first down.

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“We felt like Zeke had earned a series and so he was going to get that third series no matter what, no matter what the score was or how it happened and after that it was just play it by ear,” Guidie said. “He got that series and had a couple plays prior to that after Pat had a big run. He got to come back in and finish up.”

Morgan narrowly missed a 1,000-yard receiving season, finishing with 911 yards on 43 receptions with 12 touchdowns. Just two other Tigers had 100 yards receiving: Colton Winder finished with 117 yards and Kale Schrader had 115.

“He’s a big-time playmaker and you feel bad sometimes the way our season went we didn’t need to throw the football a whole lot,” Guidie said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t trust him or he wasn’t a great football player. (Saturday) we get behind and have to sling it around a little bit and obviously he’s our guy. I think he came in with 35 receptions and the next closest was one of our fullbacks with eight or 10. When it was on the line we were going to go to him and we saw what a great player he is.”

Junior running back Tyler Mueller, who also missed several games due to injury, narrowly missed a 1,000-yard rushing season. He needed 37 yards on Saturday to hit the mark, but finished with 24. His season line: 152 carries for 987 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Final season statistics for defense weren’t available by Monday night, but it’s safe to say Colton Winder led the Tigers in tackles. The senior linebacker had 130 total tackles before the Vianney game, along with a sack, nine tackles for a loss and three fumble recoveries.

Junior linebacker Kale Schrader was second on the team with 84 tackles. He had two interceptions.

Other defense standouts were junior lineman Oscar Campa, who entered Saturday with 10 tackles for a loss and three fumble recoveries; senior end Mason Bryant, who had four sacks and an interception; junior end Alex Martini, who had two interceptions; and senior defensive back Bryce Pugh, who had three fumble recoveries.

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