Last season’s 35-34 double overtime loss to Argyle in a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal left a bitter taste in Carthage’s mouth. With a loaded 2014 class ready to take over leadership roles, the Bulldogs appear to be primed for another state title run.

Super sophomores QB Blake Bogenschutz and RB Tevin Pipkin gave Carthage a great 1-2 offensive punch last season and will only be better this season as juniors. They’ll play behind a line averaging about 270 pounds per player led by fellow juniors Adrian Goodacre (6-4, 325) and Griffin Bankhead (6-3, 290). All-state receiver/safety Edward Pope (Texas A&M) can’t be replaced, but a promising group of players is ready to take their shot at it.

Then there’s defense. Texas A&M commit Isaiah Golden (6-2, 315) moved to Carthage from Elysian Fields in March and bolstered what was already looking like a great front seven. Now it could be the best in 3A with two-year varsity starter Mario McCain (6-0, 240), only a junior, and senior middle linebacker Trent Jackson (6-0, 215), whose 153 tackles were the most in a season for a Carthage player in coach Scott Surratt’s era.

But if you think the District 16-3A teams have tough playoff roads, check Carthage’s. The Bulldogs, who move not only to Region III this season but become a Division I representative in the new District 20-3A, could face Palestine, No. 6 in the 3A countdown, in the bi-district round before playing the Waco La Vega vs. Navasota winner in the second round. Both are state title contenders like Carthage. If the Dawgs get out of that, new-to-3A Houston Yates or perennial power West Columbia could await in the regional final.

Then there’s the potential for back-to-back matchups with 4A refugees: 2011 state quarterfinalist El Campo in the state semifinals, then perennial power Stephenville in a state championship game that would be among the most anticipated in 2012. Two preseason publications picked Stephenville and Carthage as their 3A Division I state champions, so the two powers may be on a collision course come December.

3A Countdown

No. 2: Gilmer

No. 3: Kilgore

No. 4: Henderson

No. 5: Chapel Hill

No. 6: Palestine

No. 7: Atlanta

No. 8: Van

No. 9: Jasper

No. 10: Rusk