NEW CHAPEL HILL -- It was a less-than-stellar beginning to the year for the defending state champion Carthage Bulldogs, but a late-season surge has returned some of the swagger back to "C-Town."

Carthage took advantage of a special-teams miscue at the end of the first half and seized control in the third quarter before holding off Chapel Hill, 28-21, in the District 9-4A Division I finale Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.

The victory was the fourth in a row for Carthage (5-5, 4-1), which dropped five of its first six games at the outset. Carthage finished as the district's second seed and will face Little Cypress-Mauriceville (5-5) at 7 p.m. next Saturday night at Lufkin's Abe Martin Stadium in the bi-district round of the playoffs.

"It's all about confidence," said Carthage coach Scott Surratt, who will bring a 30-3 career playoff record into the postseason. "We had 20 new starters going in, and it was all about confidence. We got a big win and we've continued to win and play better. Now we have confidence and think we can play a little bit, so who knows? We may be good enough to play for a while."

Carthage senior linebacker James Marshall helped lead a strong second-half defensive performance in his team's 28-21 win over Chapel Hill on Friday night. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Chapel Hill (5-5, 3-2) had won four straight before dropping its final two games of the regular season. Chapel Hill, the district's No. 3 seed, will meet Huffman Hargrave (9-1) at 1 p.m. next Saturday from Lufkin in the first round.

The first half was dominated by Chapel Hill, which put up 320 yards of offense through the game's first two quarters, but with less than 20 seconds remaining until halftime, the entire complexion of the game changed.

Leading 14-7, Chapel Hill lined up to punt from its own 25-yard line when the snap sailed over the head of punter Austyn Fendrick, who tracked the ball down just outside the end zone before hurriedly getting off a kick that sailed out of bounds at the 6 with eight seconds remaining in the half.

Carthage quarterback Jarod Blissett then fired a strike to Jakeldric Jackson in the end zone to tie the game at 14-14 just before halftime.

"That play definitely hurt us," said Chapel Hill coach Thomas Sitton. "We were playing decent football, just not finishing our drives. That kinda got the momentum going their way a little bit."

Carthage scored two third-quarter touchdowns to build a 28-14 lead going into the fourth, and held on despite not picking up a first down on offense in the game's final 12 minutes. Chapel Hill's Delenis Garrett scored on a 1-yard run with 6:52 remaining, cutting the deficit to one touchdown, but Chapel Hill's last two drives of the night ended on downs.

Blissett completed 12 of 27 attempts for 191 yards with three touchdowns and two first-half interceptions. Jackson snared four catches for 87 yards -- all in the first half -- while Kirston Ingram had three receptions for 66 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown that gave Carthage a 21-14 lead midway through the third.

Chapel Hill junior running back Ja'Braylon Franklin led the Bulldogs with 122 yards on 15 carries in his team's 28-21 loss to Carthage on Friday night. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

De'Arreus Hearn, filling in for the injured Ravodney Hardy and Mykel Gates, rushed for a team-high 54 yards on 11 carries. His 13-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds remaining in the third gave Carthage a 28-14 lead.

Brewster Griffith carried nine times for 47 yards, while freshman Hunter Townsend rushed for 41 yards on four attempts and caught two passes for 36 yards.

Chapel Hill, which was playing without starting quarterback Konnor Hitchcock, was limited to only 131 yards and six first downs after halftime.

"I thought we played pretty good defensively," Surratt said. "We knew they had so much speed, so we said 'hey, when they break get them on the ground.' And we did that for the most part, and I think that kept us in it. We kept playing hard and got a break or two here and there; we're fortunate to get out of here with a win."

Chapel Hill gained 451 yards on the night, the bulk coming on the ground, as the tandem of Ja'Braylon Franklin and Michael Bledsoe each eclipsed the century-mark. Franklin had 122 yards on 15 carries, while Bledsoe ran 15 times for 100 yards.

Jeffery Minor, normally a starting receiver, took nearly all of the snaps at quarterback. He finished 10 of 25 passing for 156 yards and a touchdown. He added 24 rushing yards on nine carries.

"I was proud of all our boys tonight," Sitton said. "The effort that they showed throughout the game was great. We just hurt ourselves with penalties, holding penalties got us. I feel like if we had finished a few of our drives, it had been a different game. We kept moving the football and kept having to bring it right back because of a penalty or something. We'll get those fixed and hopefully play a little while in the playoffs."

With the game tied at 14-14, Carthage took its second drive of the second half into Chapel HIll territory and scored when Blissett found Ingram downfield for a 38-yard touchdown on third-and-14.

Carthage forced Chapel Hill into a three-and-out, and then put together its most impressive drive of the night. On third-and-28 from his own 10-yard line, Blissett fired a strike to Townsend for a 30-yard completion that extended the series.

Blissett then had runs of 5, 13 and 7 yards that were sandwich around a 15-yard completion to Ingram, which put Carthage at the Chapel Hill 20. Hearn's 13-yard scoring run two plays later extended Carthage's lead to 28-14.

Chapel Hill senior Jeffery Minor filled in a quarterback for the Bulldogs' injured starter Konnor Hitchcock and passed for 156 yards and a touchdown in his team's 28-21 loss to Carthage on Friday night. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

"We were down to our fifth tailback and he ran it good, and then we put our sixth tailback (Hearn) in," Surratt said. "So we're beat and battered, but we're going to play hard and we were very fortunate to get out of here with a win. I'm just super proud of my players and coaches."

Carthage scored on the game's initial drive. Blissett connected with Jackson for 63 yards on the first play, which set up his 11-yard touchdown pass to Jarrod McLin four plays later.

Chapel Hill then had the first of its two first-quarter drives stall at the Carthage 25, before Reggie King intercepted Blissett deep down the field on Carthage's ensuing series. Chapel Hill moved the ball inside the Carthage 20, but Trey Jackson stuffed Franklin for a 6-yard loss on third-and-7, and Minor's fourth-down scramble came up three yards short.

Carthage then went three-and-out, but recovered a Chapel Hill muffed punt at the opposing 41. However, Carthage couldn't capitalize, as a Townsend pass fell incomplete on fourth down at the 36.

On the second play of Chapel Hill's next series, Minor tossed a swing pass in the flat to Johntaveon Martin, who raced 49 yards to the Carthage 15. An 11-yard run by Garrett set up King's 4-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation, which tied the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter.

Townsend had a 40-yard run on Carthage's next drive, but Chapel Hill was able to turn Carthage over on downs after Carthage had advanced the ball inside the Chapel Hill 20.

And on third-and-6, Minor lofted a bomb down the middle of the field to Zack Walters, who beat his man in one-on-one coverage and hauled in the catch for a 67-yard touchdown, which gave Chapel Hill a 14-7 lead with 9:08 showing on the second-quarter clock.

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Carthage 28, Chapel Hill 21

At Bulldog Stadium, New Chapel Hill

Carthage               7     7    14     0    --    28
Chapel Hill             7     7      0     7    --    21

First Quarter
CAR--Jarrod McLin 11 pass from Jarod Blissett (Rafael Hernandez kick), 10:07.
CH--Reggie King 4 run (Austyn Fendrick kick), 1:16.
Second Quarter
CH--Zack Walters 67 pass from Jeffery Minor (Fendrick kick), 9:08.
CAR--Jakeldric Jackson 6 pass from Blissett (Hernandez kick), :04.
Third Quarter
CAR--Kirston Ingram 38 pass from Blissett (Hernandez kick), 4:52.
CAR--De'Airreus Hearn 13 run (Hernandez kick), :15.
Fourth Quarter
CH--Delenis Garrett 1 run (Fendrick kick), 6:52.

                                             CAR                   CH
First Downs                               13                    17
Total Yards                              371                  451
Rushes-Yards                     34-172            50-295
Passing Yards                          199                 156
Comp.-Att.-Int.                  13-29-2          10-25-0
Punts-Avg.                           6-45.2            5-26.6
Fumbles-Lost                            1-0                 4-0
Penalties-Yards                     10-60               8-72

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING--Carthage, De'Airreus Hearn 11-54, Brewster Griffith 9-47, Hunter Townsend 4-41, Jarod Blissett 9-30, Trey Jackson 1-0. Chapel Hill, Ja'Braylon Franklin 15-122, Michael Bledsoe 15-100, Delenis Garrett 7-35, Jeffery Minor 9-24, Johntaveon Martin 2-8, Reggie King 2-6.
PASSING--Carthage, Blissett 12-27-2--191, Townsend 1-2-0--8. Chapel Hill, Minor 10-25-0--156.
RECEIVING--Carthage, Jakeldric Jackson 4-87, Kirston Ingram 3-66, Townsend 2-36, Griffith 2-(-10), Jarrod McLin 1-11, Justin Clough 1-8. Chapel Hill, Deundre Phillips 5-18, Kenyotta Henderson 2-14, Zack Walters 1-67, Martin 1-49, Cole Williams 1-8.