CLASS 4A DIVISION I SEMIFINAL

Waco La Vega Pirates (14-0)

vs.

Carthage Bulldogs (11-3)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Homer B. Johnson Stadium, Garland

 

Coaches
  • La Vega: Willie Williams
  • Carthage: Scott Surratt

 

Last week

 

Next week
  • Winner faces winner between Abilene Wylie and Argyle, 4A Division I state championship game, noon Friday (Dec. 18) at Houston's NRG Stadium

 

Playmakers

La Vega

  • WR/CB Parrish Cobb, Sr., 5-11, 175 (34 catches, 639 yards, 10 TDs; 36 carries, 456 yards, 5 TDs; 41 tackles, 4 INTs, 14 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 defensive touchdown; committed to Oklahoma)
  • WR/S Brandon Benson, Sr., 6-0, 185 (46 catches, 684 yards, 8 TDs; 66 tackles, 1 for loss, 4 INTs, 5 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery; committed to SMU)
  • CB Joseph Bryant, Sr., 5-11, 160 (66 tackles, 6 for loss, 4 INTs, 16 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery)
  • OL Waahid Muhammad, Sr., 6-6, 285 (committed to Tulsa)
  • TE Kedrick James, Jr., 6-5, 245 (9 catches, 162 yards; committed to Baylor)
  • QB Jamal Williams, Soph., 5-11, 165 (117 of 213, 1,907 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs; 93 carries, 320 yards, 1 TD)
  • RB Kendall Ratliff, Sr., 5-11, 170 (186 carries, 1,604 yards, 21 TDs; 9 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD)
  • LB Anthony Davis, Sr., 5-11, 205 (122 tackles, 9 for loss, 1 sack, 9 QB pressures, 4 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 1 INT, 1 PBU)

 

Carthage

  • TE/DE Jarrod McLin, Sr., 6-3, 315 (28 catches, 377 yards, 6 TDs; 119 tackles, 20 for loss, 4 sacks, 34 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries, 1 INT, 8 PBUs; committed to UTSA)
  • QB Jarod Blissett, Sr., 6-1, 230 (254 of 419, 3,872 yards, 41 TDs, 10 INTs)
  • WR Jakeldric Jackson, Sr., 5-9, 160 (83 catches, 1,477 yards, 16 TDs)
  • WR Hunter Townsend, Soph., 5-10, 185 (45 catches, 731 yards, 6 TDs; 33 carries, 214 yards, 1 TD)
  • WR Dequavius Bowens, Soph., 5-8, 155 (14 catches, 276 yards, 6 TDs)
  • LB Mykel Gates, Soph., 6-0, 215 (101 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 4 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)
  • RB Ravodney Hardy, Sr., 5-9, 200 (182 carries, 1,003 yards, 10 TDs; 21 catches, 235 yards, 1 TD)
  • DT Gilbert Perez, Sr., 5-11, 200 (107 tackles, 10 for loss, 10 QB pressures, 5 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries)

 

Just the facts
  • Waco La Vega is playing in its first state semifinal since 2008.
  • Carthage is in the semifinal round for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. The Bulldogs are 4-1 in semifinal action under coach Scott Surratt.
  • La Vega is averaging 35.1 points and 439.4 yards per game -- 303.2 rushing and 136.2 passing.
  • The Pirates' defense is allowing 15.6 points per game, and has forced 26 turnovers on the season -- 15 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
  • The cumulative record of La Vega's opponents this season is 81-70 (.536).
  • Carthage is averaging 36.4 points and 440.5 yards per game -- 147.1 rushing and 293.4 passing.
  • The Bulldogs' defense is allowing 23.3 points per game, and has forced 28 turnovers on the season -- 14 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries.
  • The cumulative record of Carthage's opponents this season is 100-62 (.617).

 

Carthage QB Jarod Blissett. (Rob Graham, ET N.fm)

Key matchup: Carthage passing attack vs. La Vega secondary. It will be strength on strength when Carthage possess the ball, as quarterback Jarod Blissett and the prolific Bulldogs passing offense faces off against Waco La Vega's talented secondary, which features two players already committed to FBS programs in cornerback Parrish Cobb (Oklahoma) and safety Brandon Benson (SMU). Together, Cobb and Benson have combined for eight interceptions, while the other two starters in the Pirates' defensive backfield -- cornerback Joseph Bryant and safety Jamun Gulford have teamed for four picks and 26 passes broken up. In last week's quarterfinal victory over China Spring, La Vega forced six turnovers, and Cobb and Benson accounted for five of them. Benson corralled two INTs while forcing and recovering a fumble, while Cobb picked off two passes as well. Carthage coach Scott Surratt said of La Vega's secondary: "They’ll be the biggest challenge to our passing game all year.”

Complicating the issue for Carthage is the injury to sophomore running back Keaontay Inrgram, who broke out with 366 rushing yards in the Bulldogs' playoff wins over previously unbeaten Stafford and Navasota earlier in the postseason. Ingram hurt his ankle on the Bulldogs' first series last week against Silsbee, and has been ruled out for the rest of the season. If Carthage is going to have success running the ball against a La Vega defense allowing just 115 rushing yards per game, the workload will fall on senior running back Ravodney Hardy, who's battled his way through injuries of his own to lead the team with 1,003 yards.

Carthage WR Jakeldric Jackson. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Inevitably, however, Carthage must do what it has done best all year long, and that's pass the ball. Blissett comes into Friday's game just 132 yards from breaking the school's single-season passing record, which was set by current UTSA quarterback Blake Bogenschutz in Carthage's 2013 state championship season. Senior receiver Jakeldric Jackson is climbing up the single-season ranks as well, and needs only seven receptions to own sole possession of second place. But against La Vega's talented secondary, it will take more than just one receiver making plays. Sophomores Hunter Townsend and Dequavius Bowens have come into their own in the passing game. Townsend, a talented athlete who has already committed to Ole Miss for baseball, is second on the team in receptions and yards, while Bowens is coming of a 111-yard, three-touchdown performance in last week's win. The X-factor might be senior tight end and UTSA commit Jarrod McLin, who's more known for his exploits at defensive end, a position he'll play at the next level. McLin has caught just 28 passes on the year, but six of them have gone for touchdowns.

Carthage RB Ravodney Hardy. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Don't be surprised if: Friday's game isn't decided until late in the fourth quarter. Carthage and La Vega appear to be about as evenly matched as can be, and both have played in their fair share of tight ballgames this season. Six of Carthage's first seven games were decided by four points or less, while La Vega has had six of its contests decided by two touchdowns or less, including 6-0 overtime win over Liberty Hill in the third round of the playoffs. If Carthage's passing attack and La Vega's secondary each play up to their potential, another key will be how well Carthage is able to run the ball. With Ingram out, and Hardy getting the majority of the reps, it would not be surprising to see the Carthage back get at least 20 carries. He has had only three games with 20 or more rushing attempts in 2015, but the Bulldogs won all three of those games. However, it's been since a 35-15 win over Henderson on Oct. 9 that Hardy's received that kind of workload. It may be required Friday night.