BEAUMONT -- The ball bounced Carthage's way several times in the second half to help the Bulldogs lead El Campo by 11 points with less than four minutes to play in Friday's Class 3A Division I state semifinal, but the final bounce went to the Ricebirds.

Carthage fumbled on a swinging gate play on second-and-15 at its own 20-yard line with three minutes remaining, which led to El Campo quarterback Bryce Brandl bulling his way in for a game-winning two-yard touchdown run with 1:57 left to propel the Ricebirds to a 29-25 comeback victory at Provost Umphrey Stadium.

El Campo (14-0), which scored 15 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, plays Stephenville (12-1), which held on for a 42-32 win against Kilgore, in Friday's 3A Division I state championship, which will be the first without an East Texas team since 2008. El Campo will play in a state title game for the first time since losing 36-12 to Brownwood in the 1967 Class 3A championship game. The Ricebirds have never won a state title.

El Campo staged a 15-play, 57-yard drive that included three third-down conversions -- the final one being Brandl's eight-yard touchdown scramble -- to cut Carthage's lead to 25-22 after Montray Johnson's two-point conversion with 3:27 remaining.

A Carthage team plagued by turnovers the entire postseason fumbled two plays later on the swinging gate play from its own 20, losing 11 yards on the play to give El Campo first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. The Ricebirds then leaned on Brandl, their only consistent offensive threat all night, who scored on fourth-and-goal at the Carthage 2 for a 29-25 advantage with 1:57 left.

"We just didn't execute it," said Carthage coach Scott Surratt of the second-and-15 play that led to the fumble. "I'm taking all blame on this one. We just didn't get it done."

Carthage committed two turnovers, giving the Bulldogs 14 in four playoff games. Brandl ran 24 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns and completed 4 of 9 throws for 41 yards and an interception. His 226 total yards accounted for 81.9 percent of El Campo's 276 yards.

Carthage quarterback Blake Bogenschutz connected on throws to Okeeron Rutherford (23, 11) and Tevin Pipkin (7) to give the Dawgs second-and-3 at the El Campo 29-yard line on the Dawgs' final possession, but two incompletions led to a fourth-and-3, when Bogenschutz was stopped inches short of the first-down marker on a shotgun draw. With no timeouts remaining, Carthage could not prevent El Campo from running out the clock.

Carthage recovered two of its own second-half fumbles, got a fourth-and-7 deflection off an offensive lineman for an 11-yard gain to keep a third-quarter scoring drive alive, and forced three second-half turnovers, including Tee Goree's interception off a deflected Brandl pass with 8:57 remaining and leading 25-14.

In other words, the Dawgs got plenty of bounces. Not to mention to near-interceptions on the El Campo drive that cut the Dawgs' lead to 25-22.

Carthage (11-3) had three opportunities to close the door on the Ricebirds, but failed. Carthage trailed 14-10 at halftime, but charged ahead 25-14 on Bogenschutz's one-yard touchdown sneak after Sammy Chhor's fumble recovery and Pipkin's 58-yard wheel-route reception, then 315-pound fullback-turned-defensive tackle Isaiah Golden's five-yard touchdown run, which gave the Dawgs their 11-point advantage three seconds into the fourth quarter.

Carthage's defense forced two turnovers in the next three minutes. Defensive end Gregg Graves forced a fumble that Golden recovered at the Ricebird 29, but the Dawgs turned the ball over on downs. Two plays later, Goree picked off Brandl on a tipped ball.

The ensuing Carthage possession ended in a three-and-out. Then came El Campo's 15-play drive to cut the Dawg lead to three points.

Bogenschutz's athleticism helped Carthage in several spots, even if his 23 yards on 13 rushes don't reflect it. The junior QB completed 16 of 29 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown, giving him almost 2,900 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes, both of which rank third in single-season school history. He kept possessions alive twice with juking runs that froze defenders and completed multiple rollout passes under pressure.

After Carthage's game-opening drive pushed the Bulldogs ahead 7-0, they couldn't run the ball at all. Pipkin gained 39 yards on four carries on that opening drive, but was held to 22 yards on 16 carries the remainder of the game for 61 yards on 20 attempts.

"We ran the ball the first drive, then other than that, they really stopped our run," Surratt said. "They made us one-dimensional and it was tough. We just made too many mistakes."

Pipkin did his part to compensate for the lack of a running game with a season-best seven catches for 110 yards. Rutherford caught four passes for 64 yards, while Goree caught five for 33, including a 16-yard swing-pass touchdown on the opening drive that saw him elude a defender and reach for the goal-line for the score. Goree also gained 23 yards on a reverse and completed a 17-yard reverse pass to Bogenschutz.

Goree's 17 touchdown receptions are second in the school's single-season record book.

Rice-bound defensive linemen Cole Hunt and Trey Martin spearheaded El Campo's surge against Carthage's running game. Hunt, a 6-foot-6, 225-pounder, made his presence felt with one sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and two tackles for loss.

"I didn't think we executed very well at all offensively," Surratt said. "The defense played well. We put them in some bad predicaments. I thought they responded very well. We came up just three or four inches short there. We had plenty of time.

"Our program, it never ends the way we want it unless we hold the trophy up and they drape the medals over our neck. But I'm proud of my seniors. They had a great run."

The loss is Carthage's third in the playoffs in six years under Surratt, who is 24-3 in the postseason with the Bulldogs.

Class 3A Division I
State Semifinal

El Campo 29, Carthage 25

W.S. "Bud" Leonard Field at Provost Umphrey Stadium, Beaumont

Carthage -- 7 3 7 8 -- 25
El Campo -- 7 7 0 15 -- 29

First quarter
CAR -- Tee Goree 16 pass from Blake Bogenschutz (Jimmy Gonzalez kick) -- 7:50
ELC -- Bryce Brandl 12 run (Alex Montes kick) -- 6:32
Second quarter
ELC -- Montray Johnson 1 run (Montes kick) -- 9:59
CAR -- Gonzalez 22 field goal -- 3:29
Third quarter
CAR -- Bogenschutz 1 run (Gonzalez kick) -- 8:35
Fourth quarter
CAR -- Isaiah Golden 5 run (Trent Jackson run) -- 11:57
ELC -- Brandl 8 run (Johnson run) -- 3:27
ELC -- Brandl 2 run (Montes kick) -- 1:57

                                   CAR           ELC
First downs                 16                12
Total yards                 374              276
Rushes-Yards          40-130         53-235
Pass Yards                 224             41
Comp.-Att.-Int.        17-30-0      4-9-1
Penalties-Yards        5-46            6-45
Fumbles-Lost            4-2              2-2
Punts-Avg.                 2-33.0       2-38.0

Rushing -- Carthage: Tevin Pipkin 20-61, Tee Goree 1-23, Blake Bogenschutz 13-23, Trent Jackson 5-18, Isaiah Golden 1-5. El Campo: Bryce Brandl 24-185, Jack Davis 8-34, Montray Johnson 8-17, Wayne Hargrove 1-4, TEAM 2-(-5).
Passing -- Carthage: Blake Bogenschutz 16-29-0 207, Tee Goree 1-1-0 17. El Campo: Bryce Brandl 4-9-1 41.
Receiving -- Carthage: Tevin Pipkin 7-110, Tee Goree 5-33, Okeeron Rutherford 4-64, Blake Bogenschutz 1-17. El Campo: Jack Davis 2-19, Cole Hunt 1-19, Montray Johnson 1-3.