CLASS 4A DIVISION I
Region III Championship

Carthage Bulldogs (10-2)

vs.

Stafford Spartans (10-3)

7:30 p.m. Friday
Abe Martin Stadium, Lufkin

 

Coaches

  • Carthage: Scott Surratt
  • Stafford: Ron Counter

 

Last week

 

Next week

  • Winner faces Waco La Vega or China Spring, Class 4A Division I semifinal

 

Playmakers

Carthage

  • RB Keaontay Ingram, Jr., 6-0, 198 (239 carries, 1,773 yards, 26 TDs; 33 catches, 367 yards, 2 TDs)
  • LB Mykel Gates, Jr., 6-0, 222
  • WR/CB Mekhi Colbert, Jr., 5-10, 180 (10 catches, 120 yards; 5 carries, 46 yards, 1 TD; )
  • QB Kason Davis, Sr., 6-2, 180 (166 of 282, 2,468 yards, 25 TDs, 7 INTs)
  • WR Dewaylon Ingram, Jr., 6-0, 160 (47 catches, 774 yards, 7 TDs)
  • OL Tanner Elliott, Sr., 6-4, 280
  • CB Nic Moore, Sr., 5-11, 155
  • WR Dee Bowens, Jr., 5-7, 140 (50 catches, 776 yards, 11 TDs)

 

Stafford

  • WR Hezekiah Jones, Sr., 6-1, 195 (34 catches, 641 yards, 14 TDs; committed to Texas A&M)
  • WR Jalen Curry, Soph., 6-3, 188 (19 catches, 382 yards, 5 TDs)
  • QB Walter White, Jr., 5-9, 171 (119 of 213, 2,010 yards, 32 TDs, 4 INTs; 113 carries, 587 yards, 11 TDs)
  • RB James Brown, Sr., 5-10, 180 (122 carries, 1,268 yards, 12 TDs; 26 catches, 394 yards, 7 TDs)
  • DT Joseph Mayfield, Sr., 5-10, 255 (49 tackles, 16 for loss, 5 sacks, 3 QB pressures, 1 PBU)
  • S Jalen Pitre, Sr., 6-0, 195 (83 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 sack, 2 QB pressures, 6 INTs, 1 PBU, 4 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries; committed to Baylor)
  • DE Kameron Hill, Sr., 6-2, 230 (48 tackles, 11 for loss, 5 sacks, 4 QB pressures, 1 fumble recovery, 2 PBUs)
  • RB Cameron Montgomery, Sr., 5-7, 155 (70 carries, 765 yards, 7 TDs; 13 catches, 200 yards, 1 TD)

 

Just the facts

  • Carthage and Stafford met in last year's playoffs with Carthage coming away with a 34-0 area-round win.
  • The Spartans were limited to less than 300 yards of offense and committed two turnovers in the loss.
  • Carthage is averaging 35.4 points and 388.3 yards per game -- 172.9 rushing and 215.4 passing.
  • Bulldogs junior running back Keaontay Ingram has 2,140 yards from scrimmage and 28 touchdowns.
  • Carthage coach Scott Surratt has a 38-5 record in the playoffs.
  • Stafford is averaging 41.5 points and 376.3 yards per game -- 210.4 rushing and 165.9 passing.
  • Spartans receiver and Texas A&M commit Hezekiah Jones has 14 touchdowns on just 34 catches.
  • Stafford has forced 33 turnovers on the year -- 10 interceptions and 23 fumbles.

 

Carthage running back Keaontay Ingram dives into the end zone during the Bulldogs' home game against Henderson on Sept. 30.

Key matchup: Stafford passing attack vs. Carthage secondary. Not very many Class 4A programs can boast of having two major Division I recruits at wide receiver, but the Stafford Spartans are one of them. Senior Hezekiah Jones, a Texas A&M commit, and sophomore Jalen Curry, one of the most highly regarded prospects in the 2019 class, give Stafford an embarrassment of riches in the passing game. Jones is a big and strong target with sprinter speed, and has been Stafford junior quarterback Walter White's primary weapon in 2016. He enters Friday's regional championship game leading the team in all three receiving categories with 34 catches, 641 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Jones has at least one scoring reception in 10 of his team's 13 games on the year. He hasn't been used very often in the playoffs with only five catches combined in playoffs wins over Houston Worthing, Kilgore, and Bridge City, but two of those receptions were good for touchdowns. Curry has a bigger frame, but leads the team in yards-per-catch with an average of more than 20 yards a reception. Like Jones, Curry has only five catches in Stafford's three playoff wins, but three have resulted in touchdowns.

Carthage's Mykel Gates (25) intercepts a pass in the second quarter of the Bulldogs' 33-31 win over Henderson in their Class 4A Division I regional semifinal on Nov. 25 in Longview.

Carthage will counter with a secondary that's been solid all season long. The Bulldogs have been gashed on the ground a few times this season; in particular in games against Henderson, Kilgore, and Silsbee. But when given the chance to defend the pass, Carthage has succeeded more often that not. In a non-district win over seventh-ranked Gilmer, the Bulldogs were responsible for Buckeyes record-setting quarterback Aaron "Poppy" Brown's second-lowest passer rating of the season. In a Week 3 win over Class 5A Whitehouse, Carthage limited the Wildcats' pass-happy offense to a meager 214 yards. And in two matchups with district rival Henderson, Carthage limited the damage done by Lions receiver and TCU commit Trestan Ebner. The Henderson star managed to make 10 grabs for 158 yards, but was limited to one touchdown; he had 16 receiving TD's in Henderson's 10 other games. The play of Carthage cornerbacks Mekhi Colbert and Nic Moore will be vitally important to the Bulldogs' chances of earning an eighth straight win.

Carthage's Mekhi Colbert (left) comes away with an interception on a pass intended for Henderson's Trestan Ebner during their game Sept. 30 in Carthage.

Don't be surprised if: Friday night's game is fairly low-scoring despite the amount of offensive firepower on both sides. With players like Carthage running back Keaontay Ingram (178.3 total yards per game, 28 touchdowns) and Stafford's pass-catching duo of Jones and Curry, neither offense has been especially productive. Both Carthage and Stafford average more than 35 points per game, but both average less than 400 total yards. The Spartans' defense has as much to do with their success, having limited opponents to 13.6 points per game while forcing 33 turnovers in just 13 games. Carthage's defense has been hurt by the big play, especially on the ground, from time to time, but has risen to the occasion at key times in the playoffs. Trailing 30-27 in the final minutes in the bi-district round to Silsbee, the Carthage defense held on fourth down deep in its own territory to set up a dramatic game-winning drive. And in last week's win over Henderson, Carthage's defense came alive after allowing three long touchdowns runs to Lions' star running back Lakendrick VanZandt totaling 168 yards. Henderson was shut out in the fourth quarter, limited to 60 yards, and stopped twice on downs after Carthage took the lead with a field goal.