Carthage Shakes Sluggish Start + Dominates Live-Action Scrimmage With Pittsburg
CARTHAGE -- The 2014 Carthage Bulldogs recorded six wins, the fewest in head coach Scott Surratt's eight-year tenure. The six losses last season were just two less than the Bulldogs' previous three years combined.
And while most programs would be content with breaking even and getting to the second round of the playoffs a year after graduation decimated a state-championship winning roster, expectations are considerably higher in Carthage.
On Friday night, the Bulldogs got their first taste of competition, eager to put last year's "disappointment" in the rear-view mirror.
The 2015 season got off to a great start in that respect for Carthage, which overcame a slow start to dominate the live-action portion of its scrimmage against Pittsburg, 24-7.
"I thought we picked up the intensity and played a lot better during the game part," Surratt said. "We've got a long way to do, there's no doubt about it. We have to get healthy; we had five or six players who didn't play tonight."
SLOWLY BUT SURELY
The scrimmage began with first-team offenses and defenses for each squad taking part in a controlled scrimmage with coaches on the field. Each starting unit ran 15 untimed plays, which ended with Carthage and Pittsburg scoring one touchdown apiece.
Senior receiver Jakeldric Jackson took a tunnel screen pass from senior quarterback Jarod Blissett 22 yards for a touchdown on Carthage's ninth play. Pittsburg got on the board on play 11 with a 1-yard run from junior Elijah Boyd, which was set up by a long pass from senior quarterback Brian Baca to senior D.J. Porter.
"I thought we were slow out of the gate," Surratt said. "Our intensity wasn't there for some reason, and it should be because it was the first time we got to hit somebody else. I was real disappointed in that. But it's tough to have the intensity with the coaches (on the field); it's like a practice."
Once when the game portion of the scrimmage -- two 12-minute quarters -- commenced, Carthage began to dominate both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs scored on their first four possessions, the first two engineered by Blissett and the third by sophomore Hunter Townsend, a speedy receiver who Surratt plans to utilize in a variety of roles this season. Junior quarterback Kason Davis also led Carthage to a touchdown during the live action.
"We're real happy with all three quarterbacks," Surratt said. "I think all three of those guys are different, but I think they can get in and move the team if needed at any time. We've obviously got to get Townsend in there a little more and do some zone-read stuff with him. I was excited for the most part with those guys running the team."
But the biggest impact performer for Carthage on the evening was senior receiver Marquise Guinn, who started at tight end during the Bulldogs' 2013 state championship season but missed all of last year.
Guinn, a 6-4, 220-pound specimen, made it look easy at times against much smaller Pittsburg defensive backs.
He caught both of Blissett's touchdown passes, the first one covering 55 yards on a fly pattern, after he out-jumped two Pirates defenders for the ball. Guinn's second touchdown -- a 31-yarder -- was caught in the flat, and the imposing pass-catcher turned it into six points by shaking off a couple of arm tackles.
"God gave him a great body, and he's made plays every day -- last spring, and he's done a phenomenal job so far (in practice)," Surratt said of Guinn. "He can get a lot better than what he played tonight, and his ceiling is so high, he's just gotta keep going. He missed last year and he's a little bit behind, but I think that he can get there."
Carthage scrimmages at Whitehouse next Friday before opening the season Aug. 28 at home against Hallsville.
Pittsburg coach Brad Baca stepped onto the Bulldog Stadium turf, a place he'd been a few times before as an assistant. But this time was different.
Friday night's scrimmage at Carthage was his first as a head coach, after spending the last several seasons as Chapel Hill's receivers coach and more recently the offensive coordinator.
"It was thinking about a lot of different things that I'm not used to having to think about," Baca said. "But it was a good first one, and it was a good experience, something that I can build on and use for next time just to get better."
On the other side was Surratt, already an East Texas coaching legend for leading Carthage to four state championships in his eight seasons as coach.
"I've got the utmost respect for Coach Surratt," Baca said. "I've known him for a while, and we've had some epic battles between them and us at Chapel Hill. What he's done over the last eight years is impressive, and I look up to him. We were excited to play them, and we knew we were going to find out things we needed to work on."
With the fast-paced tempo more to Baca's liking during the controlled portion of the scrimmage, Pittsburg's offense had a distinct flow. But when the coaches hit the sidelines during the two quarters of live action, his team struggled.
"I think it makes a big difference once (the coaches) have to step off the field and the guys are kinda out there by themselves," Baca said. "We're able to really coach them when we're out there, and I felt like we were able to have our tempo go faster because we were right there. Then, we came off to the side, and we're farther way and the tempo slows. And they're just out there for the first time by themselves, and we kinda sputtered."
But Baca was quick to point out that his team's opponent had just as much, if not more, influence on Pittsburg's difficulties in the game action.
"(Carthage) has a great team and they're going to go far; they're going to do well like they always do," he said. "(Our players are not) used to us in our system, they've been doing it for a couple weeks. I think (coaches being on the sideline) had a little bit to do with it, but ultimately I think it was who we were playing."
Trailing 24-0 late in the final quarter, Pittsburg's offense finally found some traction, with a heavy dose of senior running back Tray Walker, who broke off a few long runs to get the Pirates into the red zone. Boyd took over that, eventually scoring on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line as time expired.
"I was proud of the kids' effort; we never quit and had positive attitudes the whole time, and that's really all you can ask for," Baca said.
Pittsburg's final scrimmage is next Friday at home against Chapel Hill. The Pirates begin the season Aug. 28 at home against Pleasant Grove.