Last year it was a battle between the two defending Class 4A state champions and they didn’t disappoint with Carthage scoring in the final minute to take the win.
It won’t have the same billing this year — both teams came up just short of repeating — but that should have nothing to do with the matchup as the Bulldogs invade Hawk Stadium for their final non-district showdown against Pleasant Grove.
The Bulldogs come into Friday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff with a 4-0 record, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A Division I and in the #bEASTTexas Fabulous 15 poll, while the Hawks are No. 1 in the Class 4A Division II and No. 4 in the Fab 15.
Expect a packed house as it’s the Pleasant Grove homecoming and the stadium seats just 3,500. They will have overflow seating in the end zones and fans are encouraged to bring blankets to sit on.
“This is going to be a great challenge for us,” Carthage head coach Scott Surratt said. “We need to see how some of them react in a big game of this magnitude. It’s a regular season game and it’s not even a district game, but the players probably won’t treat it as a regular season game.
“It’s going to be a challenge. We’ll be ready.”
The Bulldogs are coming off their bye week and Surratt said the team did the usual things with a week off — get players healed, worked out problems and mistakes as well as start getting ready for the Hawks, who run the wing-T offense.
Because not many teams run the ground-oriented wing-T, having extra time to get ready for it should come in handy. Besides last year’s game with the Hawks, the Bulldogs also faced it in the 44-41 state semifinal loss to Liberty Hill.
“The wing-T presents different problems,” Surratt said. “They make the defense have to adjust on the fly. Their quarterback is a good leader and he’s as good as you’ll get.
“They throw the ball more than most wing-T teams do because their quarterback is accurate and they do a good job catching it. He’s tough and gets hit a lot. We have to put a lot of pressure on him.”
Ben Harmon is their quarterback and he has passed for 563 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also rushing for 245 yards and three more scores.
Bruce Garrett is the leading rusher with 512 yards and six TDs, while K.J. Hicks has 201 and a score. Sergio Rodriguez is the top receiver with 275 yards worth of passes and six TDs for the speedy receiver. Garrett has three receiving scores and Marcus Burris also has a receiving score.
Besides running a seldom-used offense, the Hawks also like to take up most of the 25-second clock and not shift into position until late, giving the defense little time to adjust.
The Hawks are averaging 43.6 points a game, while giving up an average of 12.2.
The Pleasant Grove defense has been formidable this season and likes to blitz.
“They depend a lot on Landon Jackson and they bring him a lot,” Surratt said. “Their defensive line is the biggest and most physical we’ve seen and may see. They’ve got some good linebackers who can run and No. 1 (Rodriguez) is very fast.”
Marcus Burris, Cameron Weekly and Torey Phillips make up the defensive front, while linebacker Nick Martin leads the team in tackles with 50 and three sacks, Dylan Hopkins has 46 tackles and Jackson has 41 tackles and 10 sacks.
Burris also has three sacks and Rodriguez leads the team in interceptions with two.
The Bulldogs average 39.7 points a game and are giving up 7.0 points and 103.8 yards a game.
Rayvon Ingram leads the team with 35 tackles, while Kip Lewis has 26, Cole Whitlock has 23, Quan Brown and Kylon Lister both have 22 and Mason Bobo and Quinton Owens both have 21.
While the Bulldogs only have four sacks, they do have 21 pressures, 17 passes have been broken up and four passes have been picked off.
Carthage is averaging 419 yards of offense a game with 164.75 rushing and 254.25 through the air.
Mason Courtney leads the ground game with 316 yards and five scores, while Jaden Thomas has 151 yards and a TD and Kelvontay Dixon has 72 yards.
Quarterback Kai Horton has passed for just under 900 yards and 14 TDs, completing 70 of 120 passes with just two interceptions.
Dixon is the leading receiver with 19 catches for 277 yards and seven TDs, followed by Courtney with 14 for 106, Braeden Wade with 12 for 96, Montrell Smith with nine for 130 and a touchdown, Craig McNew with eight for 166 and three scores and Kel Williams with eight for 95 yards and two scores.
The Bulldogs open district play next Friday night at Van.
The Hawks are a nine-point favorite by the Harris Rating System.