Carthage Defense Stands Tall + Holds Kilgore’s Powerful Rushing Attack in Check
ARLINGTON -- Kilgore entered Friday's Class 3A Division I state championship game averaging more than 490 rushing yards in its previous three playoff wins.
But a Carthage defensive front, led by senior defensive tackle and title game Defensive MVP Mario McCain, held Kilgore to 251 yards as a team to help Carthage come away with a 34-23 win for its fourth state crown in six seasons.
McCain and his D-line mates Javontay Brown and Christopher Howard combined on 10 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage. Junior safety Bryian Bolton led Carthage with 13 tackles, while linebacker Tra'Kareon Leary finished with four tackles and a sack.
"(Kilgore was) really physical up front, but we stayed in there with our front four," said McCain, who finished with three tackles (one for loss) and was a constant presence in the Kilgore backfield. "We came out on top on the defensive line. We had to show them who's physical in Carthage, Texas."
Kilgore was held without a 100-yard rusher against Carthage after having seven combined in its last three postseason games. But after Kilgore's first drive of the game, which included 54 yards on the ground, Carthage's defense tightened up by giving up just 32 rushing yards the rest of the half.
"Our defensive plan was phenomenal," Carthage coach Scott Surratt said. "We really should've held them to around 17 points. We just had to get the right fits, we weren't fitting right early. We were running left when the ball was going right, but we started fitting right and we made them earn everything they got for sure."
The performance on defense was a continuation of Carthage's mid-season reclamation project. After a 63-39 loss to Whitehouse on Sept. 27, Carthage gave up just 133 points in its final 11 games compared to 170 in the first four.
"(Defensive coordinator Darren Preston) has done a tremendous job of bringing a young group on, because we were not good early," Surratt said. "We gave up a lot of points early, but you look at our playoff scores and not many people scored on us."
Kilgore found the going difficult offensively, especially on the outside.
"We knew they had a lot of speed defensively," Kilgore coach Mike Wood said. "We need to be able to run the ball inside on them. At times we did a good job of it, but we've got to convert on third down and we've got to continue drives and get first downs and put points on the board."
Kilgore had better success in the second half, but had trouble all game converting on third down. After converting its first three third downs, Kilgore went just 4-of-10 the rest of the way.
"They loaded the box up and put more people in and stuff like that, they stunted a little bit more," Wood said of Carthage's second-half adjustments. "The penetration bothered us a little bit, but we've got to deal with that. We've dealt with that all year long, but they've got some great athletes up front."
Carthage's defense stiffened deep in its own territory late in the first and early in the second half. Kilgore's Christian Galvan missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 1:23 remaining in the second quarter and after cutting its halftime deficit to 14-10 with a 40-yard field goal as time expired, missed another another kick on its opening drive of the third quarter.
"(Carthage's) defense made some good stops and certainly kept us off the board," Wood said. "We attempted too many field goals and we've got to be able to match scores when we play somebody like Carthage that has that kind of offense. You can't kick field goals and you can't go down there and miss field goals."
For McCain, who played in his 59th career game Friday afternoon, he was able to end his high school career the way it began: with a state championship.
"In my first state championship (as a freshman) I really didn't have a big role," McCain said. "I played right guard and all of those linemen were seniors, and they just told me what to do. But this time, with all my classmates, it's unbelievable."