CARTHAGE – The much-anticipated battle between reigning Class 4A state champions didn’t disappoint. In fact, it wasn’t decided until the closing seconds.

Kelvontay Dixon’s 12-yard scoring run with three seconds remaining gave top-ranked Carthage a thrilling 28-21 win over No. 4 Pleasant Grove, Friday night at Bulldog Stadium in the final non-district game for both teams.

Carthage (5-0) drove 70 yards in less than two minutes after recovering a Pleasant Grove (3-2) fumble, its only turnover of the night.

Bulldogs senior quarterback Gunner Capps, who passed for 420 yards and three touchdowns, was 5-of-7 on the final drive. But with 11 seconds to play and only one timeout remaining, Capps pitched the ball to his left to Dixon, who did the rest.

“We put it in this week just for Pleasant Grove,” Capps said of the call on the game-winner. “The way they lined up, we thought we had it all night.”

Capps completed 21 of 30 attempts, and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, rallying his team from an eight-point deficit.

“We work situations like that every day in practice, working on getting down the field in two minutes,” Capps said. “We knew we had to go quick tempo, get out of bounds, and go score.”

Following a fourth-down stop by Carthage’s defense at its own 40, Capps hit Dixon over the middle for a 37-yard gain inside the Pleasant Grove 10. Two plays later, Capps found wide-open tight end Kaden Holcomb for a 9-yard touchdown.

He connected with Holcomb again for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 21-21 with 6:28 remaining.

Pleasant Grove took the ensuing series into Carthage territory, but on third-and-1 from the the Bulldogs’ 30, Hawks quarterback Ben Harmon fumbled and Carthage defensive lineman Kylon Lister recovered with 1:58 to play.

That set the stage for Capps’ heroics.

“He’s gonna be calm, he’s been in this situation before, and he threw the ball right on the money the last drive and had perfect reads,” said Carthage coach Scott Surratt of Capps. “That’s what a senior quarterback is supposed to do that’s had the experience that he’s got.”

Pleasant Grove’s vaunted, ball-control Wing-T dominated time of possession, limiting Carthage to just nine offensive possessions for the game.

“We were very fortunate to win, and we realized that,” Surratt said. “We turned the ball over, and we missed a couple fourth downs. And you don’t get many possessions when you play somebody like Pleasant Grove.”

The Bulldogs scored on four of their possessions, and lost two fumbles, turned it over on downs twice, and missed a field goal on the others.

“They put a lot of pressure on you,” Surratt said. “I don’t think we lined very well defensively tonight, and I don’t think we lined up well offensively. We busted three straight plays and then missed a field goal, that’s just not what good football teams do.”

Dixon caught five passes for 156 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Carthage running back Tucker Smith had just seven yards on 10 carries, but did have four receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown.

The Bulldogs had only 12 rushing yards for the game.

“We don’t think we played very well, and they had a lot to do with it; you’ve gotta give those guys credit,” Surratt said. “They snapped it with one second (on the play clock) every time to shorten the game. We didn’t get a whole lot of snaps, that’s why we were going in a hurry and wanted to throw the ball deep.”

James Wiggins led Pleasant Grove offensively with 130 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Bruce Garrett had 11 carries for 73 yards and TD, and Harmon rushed 16 times for 52 yards and a touchdown while also completing 5 of 9 passes for 99 yards.

Capps’ 47-yard scoring pass to Dixon gave Carthage a 7-0 lead early in the opening quarter, but Pleasant Grove evened the score on the first play of the second – a Garrett 4-yard run that was set up by Harmon’s 41-yard completion to tight end Landon Jackson on third-and-long.

Pleasant Grove was stopped on fourth down inside the Carthage 15 later in the quarter, and on the next snap, Capps hit Smith on a seam-route for an 86-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The extra point was no good.

The Hawks took their first lead, 14-13, just before the half on a Wiggins 33-yard run and the ensuing Dillon Williams PAT.

Carthage turned it over deep inside its own territory on its first possession of the second half, and Pleasant Grove extended its lead to 21-13 on a Harmon 1-yard touchdown run.

Both teams begin district play next Friday night. Pleasant Grove plays host to Pittsburg (4-2), while Carthage is at home against Van (4-1).

“That builds character throughout the team and with the coaching staff,” Capps said of his team’s win Friday night. “And I think team chemistry is a lot better after this win.”

No. 1 Carthage 28, No. 4 Pleasant Grove 21

At Bulldog Stadium, Carthage

Pleasant Grove        7      7      7      0    –    21
Carthage                 7      6      0    15    –    28

First Quarter
CAR—Kelvontay Dixon 47 pass from Gunner Capps (Luis Piedra kick), 8:41.
Second Quarter
PG—Bruce Garrett 4 run (Dillon Williams kick), 11:53.
CAR—Tucker Smith 86 pass from Capps (kick failed), 4:40.
PG—James Wiggins 33 run (Williams kick), 2:54.
Third Quarter
PG—Ben Harmon 1 run (Williams kick), 5:55.
Fourth Quarter
CAR—Kaden Holcomb 9 pass from Capps (Holcomb pass from Capps), 6:28.
CAR—Dixon 12 run (Piedra kick), :03.

                                      PG                    CAR
First Downs                      18                       15
Total Yards                      371                     432
Rushes-Yards             49-272                 14-12
Passing Yards                    99                    420
Comp.-Att.-Int.              5-9-0              21-30-0
Punts-Avg.                  2-35.5                     0-0
Fumbles-Lost                    1-1                    2-2
Penalties-Yards                3-25                  2-20

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING—Pleasant Grove, James Wiggins 18-130, Bruce Garrett 11-73, Ben Harmon 16-52, Nick Martin 4-17. Carthage, Kelvontay Dixon 2-12, Tucker Smith 10-7, Gunner Capps 2-(-11).
PASSING—Pleasant Grove, Harmon 5-9-0—99. Carthage, Capps 21-30-0—420.
RECEIVING—Pleasant Grove, Landon Jackson 2-72, Jackson Cobb 2-18, Martin 1-9. Carthage, Kel Williams 6-77, Dixon 5-156, Smith 4-122, Kaden Holcomb 4-26, Roshabrius Garrett 2-29.