[By Josh Havard, Special to ETSN.fm]

LUFKIN -- With their title hopes on the line, Carthage came up with a season-defining performance.

The Bulldogs defense pitched a second-half shutout, Dewaylon Ingram caught a game-winning 5-yard touchdown with 2:26 remaining, and Carthage survived a heartstopping 27-26 win over the Stafford in Class 4A Division I state quarterfinal action Friday night at Abe Martin Stadium.

On a night Carthage (11-2) led for a total of 3:32 and faced a 12-poinit halftime deficit, the Bulldogs made all of the clutch plays down the stretch to come away with a win on a cold and rainy night.

"That's the fastest team we've played since we've been here," Carthage head coach Scott Surratt said of Stafford (10-4). "We talk about survive and advance, and tonight that was true survival."

After watching an impressive Stafford display in the first half, Carthage never blinked in holding a potent Spartan offense off the board after halftime.

Jose Dejulian revovered a fumble near midfield with 6:27 remaining, and Carthage appeared to be on the way to the win when Kason Davis hit Mekhi Colbert for an apparent long touchdown. However, the play was called back due to a taunting penalty before he hit the end zone.

Carthage made sure that didn't matter when Ingram hauled in the go-ahead touchdown to make the score 27-26. Carthage went for the two-point conversion, only to see Stafford intercept it and return it near midfield before being stopped.

The following drive was filled with controversy as Carthage appeared to seal the game when Tre Gatlin jumped on a fumble on the first play. However, an inadvertent whistle gave Stafford new life and Hezekiah Jones and Jalen Curry caught back-to-back long passes to move inside the Carthage 20.

The Spartans then went for a potential game-winning field goal that was well off the mark, sealing Carthage's win.

"We had to tough it out in some sloppy weather," Surratt said. "We told the kids to just keep playing and they did. They made the plays we needed to get the win."

In the win, Davis threw for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19-of-38 passing.

Keaontay Ingram had a huge game with 27 rushes for 106 yards and a score and nine receptions for 84 yards.

Colbert had a huge game with an interception and a fumble return for a touchdown. On offense, he added four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.

"That was the best defense we've seen all year and we were able to hang 27 on them," Surratt said. "We did what we needed to do in the second half to get the win."

Stafford was led by Walter White, who threw for 183 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-30 passing.

Cameron Montgomery ran for 55 yards on 11 carries and caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown.

In the early going, Stafford's defense helped set up the first touchdown of the night when David Allison recovered a fumble at the Carthage 45.

White took advantage by hitting Curry, who made a nice 19-yard catch over a Carthage defender. On the next play, James Brown ran into the left corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead after a missed extra point midway through the first quarter.

Stafford used its special teams to get the second score as Montgomery took a short line drive punt and raced past Carthage for a 42-yard return, upping the lead to 13-0 with 10:57 remaining in the first half.

Carthage's offense, which had been silent for the first 15 minutes, finally got on track with its following drive as Davis threw a swing pass to Colbert, who made a Stafford defender miss before sprinting in for a 32-yard touchdown. The extra point was off the mark, leaving Stafford with a 13-6 lead with 8:05 to play in the half.

Carthage's defense then came up with a big play to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game.

With the ball deep in its own territory, White hit Jones on a short pass. However, Colbert stripped the ball from his hands and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Carthage then faked the extra point with Davis running in for a two-point conversion that made the score 14-13 late in the first half.

Stafford followed with a highlight play of its own with Montgomery taking a short pitch from White before making a Carthage player miss and sprinting nearly from sideline to sideline for a 50-yard score. The extra point bounced off the upright, leaving Stafford with a 19-14 lead with 2:14 until halftime.

Stafford's special teams came up with another big play just a minute later when it blocked a punt and Allison recovered it at the Carthage 1.

White did the work on the next play, sneaking in from 1 yard out to make it 26-14 with 57 seconds left in the half.

There were a few more fireworks in the final minute of the half as Stafford's Jalen Pitre was ejected for targeting after a crushing hit on a Carthage player.

However, Stafford went into the break with its 26-14 lead intact.

Carthage missed out on a chance to cut the game to a one-score margin on the opening drive of the second half when it dropped an open touchdown pass. Two plays later, Stafford took over on downs.

After Carthage's defense came up with a stop, the offense didn't miss out on its opportunity this time. Facing a fourth-and-2, Ingram broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run, narrowing the gap to 26-21 with 4:11 to play in the third quarter.

Colbert came up with another big play for Carthage with an interception he returned to the Stafford 27 with 1:10 remaining in the third. However, Stafford answered the bell with a fumble recovery to stop that momentum just before the end of the quarter, setting up the wild finish.


Carthage 27, Stafford 26

Class 4A Division I
Region III Championship
At Abe Martin Stadium, Lufkin

Stafford            6    20      0      0    --    26
Carthage          0    14      7      6    --    27

First Quarter
STA--James Brown 6 run (kick failed), 5:14.
Second Quarter
STA--Cameron Montgomery 42 punt return (Kirvin Bonilla kick), 10:57.
CAR--Mekhi Colbert 32 pass from Kason Davis (kick failed), 8:05.
CAR--Colbert 30 fumble return (Davis run), 3:20.
STA--Montgomery 50 pass from Walter White (kick failed), 2:14.
STA--White 1 run (Bonilla kick), :57.
Third Quarter
CAR--Keaontay Ingram 39 run (Brandon Medrano kick), 4:11.
Fourth Quarter
CAR--Dewaylon Ingram 5 pass from Davis (pass failed), 2:26.

                                     STA               CAR
First Downs                      13                  16
Total Yards                      331                293
Rushes-Yards            34-148            32-93
Passing Yards                  183               200
Comp.-Att.-Int.         10-30-1         19-39-0
Punts-Avg.                  4-30.8           5-33.4
Fumbles-Lost                    3-3               2-2
Penalties-Yards               3-25              2-25

RUSHING--Stafford, James Brown 10-58, Cameron Montgomery 11-55, Walter White 12-42, Erik Pena 1-(-7). Carthage, Keaontay Ingram 27-106, Dee Bowens 2-(-1), Kason Davis 3-(-12).
PASSING--Stafford, White 10-30-1--183. Carthage, Davis 19-38-0--200, Elijah King 0-1-0--0.
RECEIVING--Stafford, Jalen Curry 3-65, Montgomery 3-57, Hezekiah Jones 2-39, Desmond Mathis 1-18, Brown 1-4. Carthage, Keaontay Ingram 9-84, Mekhi Colbert 4-75, Dewaylon Ingram 4-32, Bowens 1-10, Josh Gradberg 1-(-1).