FRISCO -- Carthage did not play its best game of the season against what Bulldogs coach Scott Surratt called the best team they've faced this season.

But it was enough to get Carthage to its fifth state championship game in nine years.

Keaontay Ingram scored from a yard out in triple overtime, lifting the Bulldogs to a dramatic 26-20 win over China Spring in their Class 4A Division I semifinal Saturday at the Ford Center.

Carthage (12-2) overcame five turnovers on the night and will meet Abilene Wylie (12-1) at 4 p.m. Friday from AT&T Stadium in Arlington for the championship.

“Just unbelievable character, we just keep playing hard," Surratt said. "We didn’t play our best tonight. We turned the ball over five times and that’s ridiculous, but we kept playing. Our defense kept playing after we turned it over, and good things happen when you do that.”

The Bulldogs threw an interception and lost two fumbles -- one in the first overtime period -- in the second half, but China Spring (13-2) was unable to convert any of those mistakes into points.

"We’re lucky as dogs to win a game with five turnovers, but this is one of my favorite teams because we keep battling," Surratt said. "We play so hard it’s unbelievable, and here we are.”

China Spring committed just one turnover, but it was a big one. Cougars quarterback Cutter Haigood was intercepted by Carthage junior cornerback Mekhi Colbert in the end zone on the first play of China Spring's third OT possession.

“I was just looking for the deep ball, and I had to play it smart," Colbert said. "It’s playoff time, you gotta go get it.”

On the first play of the ensuing Carthage drive, Ingram broke free and gained 21 yards to the China Spring 4-yard line. He scored the game-winner -- his 29th rushing touchdown of the season -- two plays later.

Ingram finished with 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark for the season. He also lost three fumbles on the evening.

"It's wonderful," Ingram said of the win. "Then again, we had so many turnovers — three on my behalf. I feel like I was the main problem. I think I'll be able to step it up in the state championship game.”

China Spring was stopped inches short on fourth down to begin the first overtime, but Ingram's fumble on the first play of Carthage's possession sent the game to double OT.

Carthage's Brandon Medrano missed a potential go-ahead field goal from 32 yards in the second OT, but China Spring's Griffin Kenneaster's 36-yard attempt for the win sailed wide to the left, which forced a third overtime.

China Spring took a shot to the end zone on the first play, as Haigood went to 6-5 receiver Brett Cain, but Colbert jumped up and came down with the game-changing interception -- his fifth of the season.

“We felt like (China Spring) was the best team we played all year because they weren’t going to give you anything," Surratt said. "There at the end when we got the big pick, I think that was their only turnover. You can’t say enough about Mekhi Colbert. He plays about every down now, and what a play on a (much taller) guy.”

That set the stage for the game's dramatic conclusion.

“I just had a feeling that this was it, the game was about to be over," Davis said after Colbert's interception in the third OT. "All we had to do was hang onto the ball and execute.”

Davis completed 20 of 36 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, including a 21-yarder to Dewaylon Ingram that tied the game at 20-20 with 37 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

“Any one of our receivers can make plays," Davis said. "(China Spring) was sound defensively but our receivers just ran really good routes, got open, and it was easy.”

Carthage's defense stiffened in the second half, limiting the Cougars to just three points, 90 yards, and five first downs after halftime.

“(Junior linebacker Mykel Gates) had a big game, and I think our whole D-line had a big game," Surratt said. "(China Spring) averaged over 300 yards rushing per game. I don’t know what they had tonight but they earned every bit of it.”

Haigood led the Cougars with 134 yards on 22 carries, and added 68 yards and two passing scores. Keaton Dudik finished with 93 yards on 25 attempts.

“They’ve been clutch all year," Davis said of Carthage's defense. "They’ve made so many big stops it’s unbelievable. And we have all the faith in them. When they get out there we just know they’re going to make a stop.”

Keaontay Ingram was bottled up in the first half, gaining just 35 yards on 11 carries with two fumbles. But he came alive in the second half, accounting for 136 of Carthage's 194 yards after halftime.

“We made some adjustments at half, we got another tight end in the game and that got them spread out a little bit," Surratt said. "Any time we had a fullback and a tight end in the game, they were going 5-3 (on the defensive front). And when we went solo with our two tight ends and two wideouts, they were going with just their regular 5-2. We were blocking it better in the second half.”

Carthage moved 74 yards in five plays on its opening drive of the game, and took a 7-0 lead on Davis' 22-yard touchdown pass to Colbert on third-and-10. That was the beginning of a big half for Davis, who passed for 189 yards in the first two quarters.

“(China Spring) had the 5-3 in there so we were going to throw it," Surratt said. "We’re really good at wideout, and (Davis) has got great talent. You saw them back way off of us. We struggled throwing our (bubble screens), or we would’ve had a big night. He made enough plays for us to win.”

China Spring answered in a hurry on its opening drive of the game. Haigood gained 47 yards to the Carthage 6-yard line, then hit Kody Fulp for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down, tying the game at 7-7 with 8:32 remaining in the first.

Keaontay Ingram lost his first fumble of the game two possessions later, giving China Spring the ball at the Carthage 28. Three plays later, Haigood gave the Cougars a 14-7 lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyrick James.

China Spring recovered another Keaontay Ingram fumble on the ensuing drive, but was unable to capitalize. Instead, Carthage drove 75 yards in seven plays, to draw closer.

Davis lofted a beautiful pass in stride to Dewaylon Ingram for 35 yards to the China Spring 3, and Keaontay Ingram took a pitch left into the end zone two plays later. The extra point was no good, leaving Carthage behind 14-13 with 9:09 remaining in the half.

China Spring extended the lead to 17-13 just before halftime with a 30-yard field goal.


Carthage 26, China Spring 20 (OT)

Class 4A Division I State Semifinal
At Ford Center at The Star, Frisco

Carthage                7      6      7      0      0      0      6    --    26
China Spring        14      3      3      0      0      0      0    --    20

First Quarter
CAR--Mekhi Colbert 22 pass from Kason Davis (Brandon Medrano kick), 10:46.
CS--Kody Fulp 2 pass from Cutter Haigood (Griffin Kenneaster kick), 8:32.
CS--Tyrick James 22 pass from Haigood (Kenneaster kick), 3:59.
Second Quarter
CAR--Keaontay Ingram 3 run (kick failed), 9:09.
CS--FG Kenneaster 30, :05.
Third Quarter
CS--FG Kenneaster 30, 8:11.
CAR--Dewaylon Ingram 21 pass from Davis (Medrano kick), :37.
Third Overtime
CAR--Keaontay Ingram 1 run

                                        CAR                 CS
First Downs                          21                 14
Total Yards                          410               295
Rushes-Yards                36-176          52-227
Passing Yards                     234                 68
Comp.-Att.-Int.             20-36-1           9-20-1
Punts-Avg.                      3-39.0           6-43.0
Fumbles-Lost                       6-4               0-0
Penalties-Yards                   3-30             5-45

RUSHING--Carthage, Keaontay Ingram 26-168, Kason Davis 7-5, Brewster Griffith 1-3, Mekhi Colbert 2-0. China Spring, Cutter Haigood 22-134, Keaton Dudik 25-93, Cayden Johnson 4-1, Tyrick James 1-(-1).
PASSING--Carthage, Davis 20-36-1--234. China Spring, Haigood 9-20-1--68.
RECEIVING--Carthage, Colbert 7-79, Dewaylon Ingram 5-93, Dee Bowens 5-59, Keaontay Ingram 3-3. China Spring, James 5-61, Brett Cain 2-9, Kody Fulp 1-2, Dudik 1-(-4).