Carthage Leans on Defense as it Seeks Back-to-Back Championships
CARTHAGE -- It is no longer shocking.
The Carthage Bulldogs are building a dynasty in East Texas. Since Scott Surratt took over as coach in 2007, Carthage has won five state championships. The Bulldogs have a 133-17 record in that span. At 11 a.m. Friday, they will get a shot at their sixth championship in 10 years when they face Kennedale in Arlington.
This season, much of the spotlight has been on the offense. Keaontay Ingram is the No. 1 running back in the state. Dewaylon Ingram and Dee Bowens are explosive receivers. Gunner Capps has handled his first season as starting quarterback with aplomb.
But, as the adage goes, it is defense that wins championships.
"Everybody wants to talk about offense because that’s the world we live in," Surratt said. "Good defense is boring sometimes. If we wouldn’t have turned it over last week, they probably would have scored 14 points. Coach (Darren) Preston and the staff do a phenomenal job. We are very versatile offensively, but they do tons of stuff defensively."
There are plenty of reasons for Surratt to praise his defense. The Bulldogs have forced 38 turnovers this season and allowed only 20.4 points per game. Mykel Gates, a starting linebacker for the Bulldogs, said one thing stands above all else, though.
“I think we take the most pride in stopping the run," he said.
Carthage will need to do that Friday.
Kennedale presents one of the toughest running attacks the Bulldogs have seen all year. The Wildcats average 399 yards per game on the ground. They have a two-pronged attack with Jaden Knowles and De'Shaun Kirven both with more than 2,000 yards. Both are physical runners and will challenge the strength of Carthage's defense.
“The challenging thing is to make the adjustment during the game," Surratt said. "You can’t emulate the speed in practice. Those first two series, adjusting to how fast they run the offense. They line up in a hurry. As long as we get lined up right, we’ll be fine. But the backs are really, really good.”
Carthage is giving up 129.5 yards per game on the ground and 3.9 yards per carry. Linebacker Ahmad Brown said if the Bulldogs can stop the run, they know they have the victory.
“Teams come out there and they try to test us on the run and then they get to passing," he said. "We know we got a lockdown DB, so we stop the run and that’s game.”
Mid-game adjustments are something Carthage has excelled at this season. Even when the Bulldogs find themselves down at halftime, as was the case in a non-district game against Gilmer this season, they find a way to shut down the opponent in the second half.
“The guys upstairs do a great job of finding weaknesses and strengths of what they’re doing and give the info to coach Preston," Gates said. "Then they draw it up.”
Gates and Brown are two of many senior leaders the Carthage defense has. There's also Jose Dejulian, also a linebacker. They lead the team in tackles and have combined for 446. Dejulian is third in tackles, but missed two games with a sprained ankle he suffered against Palestine on Nov. 3. Surratt said he believes if he played the full 15, he would be the leader.
"It was pretty tough sitting on the sidelines and I couldn’t do nothing about it," Dejulian said. "When I came back, I had to make up for time I spent out.”
Although the linebackers anchor the defense, the secondary plays a big part as well. Mekhi Colbert, a senior defensive back, has six interceptions this season. He said he views himself as a leader of that group.
“I gotta step up since I’m a senior on this team," he said. "I tell the kids what to do."
Kennedale will give Carthage all it has. It if the first trip to a state championship for the Wildcats, a true Dvid vs. Goliath story in terms of recent history. The Bulldogs have no doubt this season will end in anything but a victory, though.
The experience of the core members of the team give Carthage confidence it will win the championship for the second straight season.
“To win it back-to-back and get a sixth one, you kind of take a step back and look at it," Brown said. "It feels good to know that you’re a part of it. You’re kind of part of a special deal. You take a step and and say, ‘I was able to get a team another state championship and leave as seniors with another one.’”