After three weeks of having its offense running like a fine-tuned engine, the Carthage Bulldogs were running a little rough Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.
Some of the problems were self-inflicted — dropped passes and penalties.
But the Gilmer Buckeyes made their presence felt as well, keeping the passing game in check and taking advantage when they had some opportunities.
As a result, it wasn’t until Miles Halton picked off a Gilmer pass and returned it deep into Buckeye territory in the closing moments that the Bulldogs were able to walk away with a 24-15 win.
The No. 2 Bulldogs are now 4-0 and have two weeks to get ready for their next opponent, a showdown at Pleasant Grove while Gilmer is now 2-2 and will face Newton next week.
“We made some mistakes, but they’re mistakes that we are going to get corrected,” Carthage Head Coach Scott Surratt said. “Gilmer’s got a lot of pride and came ready to play. I think mentally we may have been thinking it was the same team we’ve beaten so bad the last few years. You’re not going to play great all the time, but you need to play hard all the time. I think we did that.
“We’re excited to be 4-0. I’m guilty of being spoiled just like everyone else —I’d like to beat everybody by 50, but that’s not going to happen. The good thing is we can make corrections off a win. I don’t want to learn any lessons from losses.”
It appeared the Bulldogs had the game wrapped up when Mason Courtney scored on a 3-yard run with 5:24 left and a 24-9 lead.
But the Buckeye passing game finally started to click as Mason Hurt connected with Brandon Tennison for 10 yards and Dylan Fluellen for 11 more. Then a 19-yarder to Fluellen and a 23-yarder to Tennison.
He went back to Fluellen one more time for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Quinton Owens came up the middle to block the PAT to keep it 24-15.
However, the troubles in the kicking game continued — the Bulldogs had earlier had a field goal blocked — and the Buckeyes recovered the onside kick with 2:39 left.
The Carthage defense appeared to rise to the occasion and the Buckeyes faced a fourth-and-21, but the Bulldogs were called for pass interference to give the visitors new life.
This time it was the Buckeyes who had troubles as they were called for a dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct to back them up and then Halton came through with the pickoff to finish things off.
Both teams had troubles in the kicking game as Gilmer’s first mishap got the Bulldogs started.
After a 3-and-out, Rayvon Ingram got a piece of the punt and Carthage took over at the 30.
The Bulldogs used what is becoming a tried-and-true formula as Kai Horton went up top and hit a wide-open Craig McNew for a 20-yard touchdown and the Bulldogs led 7-0.
Another 3-and-out and they got the ball back, only to see their drive stall at the 8. Brennan Phillips came on to kick a 25-yard field goal and Carthage led 10-0.
Thanks to a 15-yard Gilmer punt, the Dawgs had a a chance to add to the lead, but it took them 13 plays — one on fourth down — to finally score on a 1-yard run by Ingram.
The Buckeyes finally put together an 11-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a 15-yard pass to a wide-open Fluellen, who made a fingertip catch. A bad snap resulted in no kick and a 17-6 lead.
The Bulldogs troubles with catching passes had already been hurting the team, but things started to look up when Horton connected with Kelvontay Dixon on a 50-yard bomb. However, it was brought back by a holding penalty.
An interception and long return ruined the first drive of the second half and the Bulldogs went backwards on the second.
The Buckeyes would get a 35-yard field goal from Jose Hernandez to make it 17-9 and the visitors would block a 37-yard attempt by the Bulldogs.
A 9-yard Gilmer punt helped set up the Bulldogs for Courtney’s short score.
Courtney finished the night with 102 yards on 18 carries as the Bulldogs rushed for 125 yards. He also had six catches for 43 yards.
“I thought we finished stronger running the football and Courtney really ran hard,” Surratt said.
Horton was 20-31-1 for 159 yards and a score. Dixon caught seven for 32 yards and McNew caught four for 58, but Kel Williams and Braeden Wade — two of the Dawgs’ leading receivers — had just one catch each.
“Percentage-wise we did OK, but we didn’t hit any deep ones,” Surratt said of the passing game. “I didn’t think we were as accurate as we have been. But that’s something we can work on.”
The Buckeyes finished with 29 yards rushing and Hurt was 13-28-1 for 149 yards. Fluellen caught seven for 109 and Tennison caught two for 33.
Ingram and Kip Lewis led the Bulldogs in tackles with 10 each, while Mason Bobo had eight, Owens had seven, Cole Whitlock and Quan Brown both had six and D.J. Hicks and Kylon Lister both had five.
CARTHAGE 24, GILMER 15
Gilmer 0 6 3 6 — 15
Carthage 10 7 0 7 — 24
C — Craig McNew 20 pass from Kai Horton (Brennan Phillips kick), 10:20
C — Phillips 25 field goal, 3:49
C — Rayvon Ingram 1 run (Phillips kick), 9:53
G — Dylan Fluellen 15 pass from Mason Hurt (No kick), 5:47
G — Jose Hernandez 35 field goal, 1:39
C — Mason Courtney 3 run (Phillips kick), 5:24
G — Fluellen 11 pass from Hurt (kick blocked), 2:42
First downs 10 23
Rushing/Yds 24-29 31-125
Passing yds 156 159
Passing 13-28-1 20-31-1
Fum/Lost 1-0 1-0
Punts/yds 5-24.2 2-24.5
Pen/Yds 6-55 5-35
RUSHING: (G) Darrell Bush 17-43; Davion Smith 1-1; Jaydon Griffin 1-(-2); Mason Hurt 3-(-4); Brandon Tennison 1-(-4); D.J. Shead 1-(-5); (C) Mason Courtney 18-102; Kelvontay Dixon 3-27; Jaden Thomas 2-12; Rayvon Ingram 1-1; Kai Horton 3-(-13); TEAM 2-(-4).
PASSING: (G) Hurt 13-28-1, 156 yards; (C) Horton 20-31-1, 159.
RECEIVING: (G) Fluellen 7-107; Tennison 2-33; Griffin 2-10; Cody Guidry 1-4; Smith 1-2; (C) Dixon 7-32; Courtney 6-43; McNew 4-59; Kel Williams 1-12; Montrell Smith 1-11; Braeden Wade 1-5.