Carthage's defense got stronger and stronger as its Class 4A Division I state semifinal game came to a conclusion.

It held China Spring to five first downs in the second half and zero first downs in the first, second and third overtime periods for a 26-20 victory and a state championship game berth. In turn, there were more than a handful of Bulldogs in contention for the + Dairy Queen Defensive Player of the Week honor.

We're going to give the award to linebacker Mykel Gates. He anchored the defensive front and tied for the team-high in tackles with 15, including two for loss, through about 56 minutes of game time.

Gates and the defense at large faced considerable adversity and passed the test with flying colors. Carthage's offense turned the ball over four times in regulation, but China Spring only managed seven points from its takeaways.

Carthage's defensive unit forced six punts, including two after turnovers and one after a turnover on downs, and also held for three field goal attempts that resulted in a total of six points through the contest's scheduled 48 minutes.

Overtime was an even better story.

China Spring faced third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 in the first overtime period from the 16-yard line and failed to come up with the yard it needed to extend its drive. Gates gummed up the running lane on both plays, including a third-down stop whilst facing three running backs stacked together in the Maryland I-formation.

Those stops put the Bulldogs in position to win with any points in first overtime.

Off another Carthage turnover in first overtime and then a missed field goal in second overtime, which placed China Spring in position to win with any points, Gates and company held China Spring to seven yards and a missed 36-yard field goal attempt.

Cornerback Mekhi Colbert came up with an interception in third overtime. The Bulldogs' capitalized on it with a touchdown three plays later.

Colbert was a candidate to win the weekly award.

So were defensive ends Trey Gatlin and Montario Wilson. Both of those guys reached double digits in the tackles department.

Gates' fellow linebacker Jase Dixon rounded out the absolute top performers from the best defensive game imaginable. He tied for the team high in tackles with 15 with no tackles for loss.

Naturally, Carthage's defense will face another big test this week in the finale.

There's not much room for error against an Abilene Wylie defense that launched its side into the state game with four takeaways in spite of the team being outgained by more than 100 yards. Queen Defensive Players of the Week