With quarterback Patrick Carlton rushing for four touchdowns and throwing for two more, the sixth-ranked Carthage football team rolled to a 50-24 victory against Willard on Friday night at David Haffner Stadium.
For the Tigers, now 6-1, it was the highest-scoring game all season after a 49-point effort at Neosho on Sept. 14.
In just his third start behind center, the 6-foot-2 sophomore Carlton guided Carthage to a 34-7 lead in the first half. The Tigers trailed early when Willard struck for a 62-yard touchdown pass on its first drive, and Carthage punted on its first possession but then scored five-unanswered touchdowns to take control of the game.
“I think he had a nice game,” Carthage head coach Jon Guidie said. “It was tough. It was a hard, physical game just like we knew it would be. A lot of strange things happened. We had a ton of penalties. We had that turnover that led to a short field. You’re going to have games like that, you’re going to be tested a little bit and credit to Willard for coming out and playing hard. Our kids found a way to overcome it.”
Starting at the Willard 33 after a punt, the Tigers tied things up at 7 when junior receiver Trulyn Kendrick scored on a 23-yard run. After forcing another punt, Carthage took a 13-7 lead when Carlton passed to senior receiver Jayden Morgan for a 55-yard touchdown.
Morgan hauled in another touchdown reception, and Carlton added touchdown runs of four and 37 yards in the first half.
Willard scored with four seconds left in the second quarter to stay within three touchdowns at the half, but Carthage opened the third with a 72-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 48-yard Carlton run with 9:45 on the clock.
He passed to senior tight end Colton Winder for the two-point conversion to give Carthage a 42-14 lead.
Willard didn’t go quietly. The visitors recovered a fumble at the Carthage 26 later in the third and scored on a 19-yard pass with 6:01 on the clock to pull within 42-21, and then recovered an onside kick at the Carthage 36.
Willard got as close as the Carthage 18 but was called for holding, and ended up settling for a 45-yard field goal to make it 42-24.
After the teams traded punts, Carthage effectively put the game away with a nine play, 57-yard drive that ate more than four minutes off the clock. Carlton’s 10-yard touchdown run and Kendrick’s conversion made it 50-24 with 6:19 left in the game.
Carlton, who has rushed for 15 touchdowns this season and thrown for three, accounted for the bulk of Carthage’s offensive yards on Friday and had his biggest game yet through the air.
“I thought we protected well and he was poised back there and made some good decisions,” Guidie said. “He throws a great ball, he’s got a strong arm. I was happy Jayden got himself open a couple times and made some big plays. It was big tonight for us for Jayden to have a big game when that running game isn’t going quite like you want it to. It’s nice to do that when you want to.”
“The second half we came out and we knew we had to keep pressing on them,” Carlton said. “They had a couple plays that changed the game but we just kept doing what we do and we pulled out the win.
“We just stuck to what we’ve been taught,” he said. “We just kept playing well.”
Carthage travels to Republic next week for it’s final road game of the regular season before wrapping up with Ozark at home on Oct. 19. Republic, 2-5, suffered a 51-12 loss at Webb City on Friday. Willard fell to 2-5 with the loss and hosts Neosho next week.
Carthage remains with a comfortable lead as the top seed in Class 5, District 6. The Tigers have 45.93 points, while second seed Parkview is 4-3 with 32.43 points. Republic is third with 27.26 points, Branson is fourth at 2-5 with 26.48 points and Nixa is fifth with a 3-4 record and 26.36 points.