Top-Ranked Carthage Scores 35 Unanswered to Rally Past No. 2 Gilmer, 48-28
GILMER -- Defending state champion Carthage is used to coming from behind in big games.
On its way to the 4A Division I crown last season, the Bulldogs overcame five deficits in the playoffs.
They did it again Saturday night to win one of the most anticipated regular-season games in East Texas history.
Top-ranked Carthage turned around a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter with 35 unanswered points over the game's final 12 minutes and 16 seconds to rally past No. 2 Gilmer, 48-28, at Jeff Traylor Stadium.
The Bulldogs (4-0) forced three second-half turnovers, scoring touchdowns on two of them, and limited a potent Gilmer offense to no points and just 50 yards of offense in the second half.
“I like the defensive adjustments (defensive coordinator) Darren Preston and his staff made," Carthage head coach Scott Surratt said. "We got a lot of heat on (Gilmer quarterback Aaron "Poppy" Brown) and created some turnovers there, and I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Carthage senior running back and University of Texas commit Keaontay Ingram led the Bulldogs on offense with a season-high 228 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He also had a 49-yard scoring catch and run, and finished with 62 receiving yards on two catches.
Ingram's first touchdown run -- a 1-yarder on third down -- and the ensuing two-point conversion from quarterback Gunner Capps to Dee Bowens cut the Gilmer lead to 28-21 with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The score was set by the first of three second-half takeaways by Carthage, an interception by senior safety Mekhi Colbert. Sophomore defensive tackle Desmund Hicks hit Brown just as he let go of the pass, and it floated into the arms of Colbert, who returned the pick 28 yards to near midfield.
Gilmer (3-1) was penalized 15 yards for roughing the passer on the two-point conversion, and Carthage's Mykel Gates recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Gilmer 22-yard line. Three plays later, Colbert scored on a 6-yard run to tie the game at 28-28 with 11:46 remaining in the game.
Carthage's next two touchdowns came courtesy of its defense. Montario Wilson returned an interception 41 yards to the end zone, and on the very next series, cornerback Jacorey Ware picked up a fumble and went 12 yards to paydirt to push the Bulldogs' lead to 41-28.
The Bulldogs had turned a 15-point deficit to a lead of 13 points in a matter of two minutes, 56 seconds.
Ingram scored on a 19-yard run later in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on Carthage's comeback win.
Brown completed 23 of 46 attempts for 329 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for a first-half score. Senior Red Jones and Qua Heath each went over 100 yards receiving, and Morgan Lusty caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Carthage quarterback Gunner Capps passed for 229 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Dee Bowens had five catches for 79 yards and a score, while Colbert added five receptions for 45 yards on offense.
Gilmer flexed its offensive muscles in the opening half, and used a 21-point second quarter to take a 28-13 lead into halftime.
“We have to go back to fundamentals," Surratt said. "We had way too many penalties and too many mistakes. It was a big game and a big atmosphere and a lot (of our new starters) hadn’t played in an atmosphere like this. And I think this was the best thing for them.”
The Buckeyes put up 362 yards of offense in the first two periods.
“We knew we had to settle down and play all four quarters," Ingram said. "We’ve been in games like this, so we knew it was nothing different.”
Each team traded touchdowns in the first quarter. Carthage struck first on a 34-yard pass from Capps to Bowens, and Gilmer countered with Brown's 20-yard scoring strike to Heath.
Ingram leaked out of the backfield and beat his man in one-on-one coverage for a 49-yard touchdown catch for a 13-7 Carthage lead early in the second quarter.
“It was a seam-route, and I came out of the backfield," Ingram said. "I saw the safety move over, and I knew I was gonna be one-on-one with the linebacker. It’s fun when it’s only one guy on you.”
But Gilmer scored the game's next three touchdowns. Brown scored from two yards, Tra Fluellen returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown, and Brown connected with Lusty on a 21-yard touchdown with five seconds to play in the half.
Gilmer concludes non-district next Friday night at home against Nacogdoches (1-3).
Carthage has its bye week before beginning District 9-4A Division I play at Henderson (4-0) on Oct. 6.
“Henderson’s got a great football team," Surratt said. "I’m sure they’ll be undefeated, and it’ll take a great effort to go over there and beat them.”
Added Colbert: “It’s gonna be really big going on to the next game. We have a bye, then we have Henderson coming up (in the district opener). (Gilmer) is a really tough place to play, and I’m glad we got the win.”
No. 1 Carthage 48, No. 2 Gilmer 28
At Jeff Traylor Stadium, Gilmer
Carthage 7 6 8 27 -- 48
Gilmer 7 21 0 0 -- 28
CAR--Dee Bowens 34 pass from Gunner Capps (Alberto Sigala kick), 6:44.
GIL--Qua Heath 20 pass from Aaron "Poppy" Brown (Adan Ibarra kick), 5:11.
CAR--Keaontay Ingram 49 pass from Capps (kick failed), 11:03.
GIL--Brown 2 run (Ibarra kick), 8:41.
GIL--Tra Fluellen 43 interception return (Ibarra kick), 6:38.
GIL--Morgan Lusty 21 pass from Brown (Ibarra kick), :05.
CAR--Ingram 1 run (Bowens pass from Capps), :16.
CAR--Mekhi Colbert 6 run (Sigala kick), 11:46.
CAR--Montario Wilson 41 interceptions return (Sigala kick), 10:33.
CAR--Jacorey Ware 12 fumble return (run failed), 9:20.
CAR--Ingram 19 run (Sigala kick), 3:01.
First Downs 22 21
Total Yards 486 412
Rushes-Yards 38-257 28-83
Passing Yards 229 329
Comp.-Att.-Int. 16-30-2 23-46-3
Punts-Avg. 1-36.0 2-48.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 7-50 9-63
RUSHING--Carthage, Keaontay Ingram 27-228, Tucker Smith 3-17, Mekhi Colbert 2-10, Chad West 4-8, Gunner Capps 2-(-6). Gilmer, Bran Webb 4-59, Rashaad Ward 8-38, Braydon Bates 4-4, Tra Fluellen 1-3, Larry Montgomery 1-0, Red Jones 3-(-6), Aaron "Poppy" Brown 7-(-15).
PASSING--Carthage, Capps 16-30-2--229. Gilmer, Brown 23-46-3--329.
RECEIVING--Carthage, Dee Bowens 5-79, Colbert 5-45, Ingram 2-62, Dewaylon Ingram 2-23, Smith 1-15, Callahan Baldree 1-5. Gilmer, Jones 8-100, Qua Heath 6-106, Morgan Lusty 3-73, Ward 3-20, Fluellen 2-36, Webb 1-(-2).