CARTHAGE -- Carthage played in front of its home crowd at Bulldog Stadium for the first time since celebrating the Class 4A Division I state championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington last December.

And, like the 2016 title game, Carthage's defense led the way.

Carthage scored twice during the two quarters of live action, and held Marshall scoreless for the entirety of Friday night's scrimmage -- each team's final tune-up before the regular season begins next week.

“Whether it’s a scrimmage or a real game, a playoff game, whatever … it’s always fun to be this in this stadium," said Carthage coach Scott Surratt.

“I thought we played hard, and the main thing is we stayed healthy. But overall, I was pretty happy.”

And while Marshall's offense never got on track, new head coach Claude Mathis saw significant improvement from last week's scrimmage performance against Pleasant Grove.

“A lot better physicality," said Mathis, who spent the previous two seasons as a college assistant at SMU and the seven years before at Class 6A power DeSoto. "We weren’t physical at all last week, but when we came out tonight we were a lot more physical. I thought our tackling was better, I thought our alignment assignment was better.”

“We just didn’t finish, and that’s something that we’ve got to get better at right now. But when it comes to physicality and the kids having a great attitude, it was all there tonight.”

Despite missing one key starter on defense -- senior end Montario Wilson -- the Carthage defense made plays at all three levels.

The offense, which will be led this season by star running back and University of Texas commit Keaontay Ingram, ran relatively basic concepts Friday but got to see a couple of newcomers the Bulldogs will be relying upon heavily this season.

Junior quarterback Gunner Capps, who is taking over for 3,000-yard passer Kason Davis, looked in command of the first-team offense for most of the night. He tossed a pair of touchdowns combined in the controlled and live-action portions.

“I think he missed one throw, and I think the ball got tipped actually," Surratt said of Capps. "Other that that, I thought he did OK. We’ll see on tape.”

Friday's other standout was sophomore Kelvontay Dixon, the younger brother of Ingram, and he played well on both sides of the ball at running back and safety.

“He’s a big-play guy on offense, and he’s trying to make the big play every time on defense," Surratt said of Dixon. "He’s got to get his eyes right, he was out of position some. But he’s a sophomore, and he’s going to be a really good player for us before it’s over.”

Mathis praised Carthage following the scrimmage.

“They’re not ranked No. 1 in the state for nothing," he said. "Coach Surratt has a great ball club, and he has a veteran staff that’ve been doing this for a long time."

Mathis added: “This was unbelievable, man. I’m serious, going against guys like this. They were playing smash-mouth, you have to worry about play-action, you still gotta worry about the bootleg, and then you play a great defense. It’s a good warmup game for us before we play Tyler Lee (in next Friday's season opener).”

Whenever there is a change in the coaching staff, the preseason scrimmages are typically when coach and player begin to understand one another.

“I had a couple of heart-to-hearts with them this week, and they know the Coach Mathis now," he said. "This is who they’re gonna get from here on out. I’ve done my evaluation of my players, my staff, and I know what direction I want to go. I know for a fact that they know me now. You want to build relationships with kids, you want to let them know you’ve got their back always, and that you’re the right man for the job. And I am the right man for the job.”

Kickoff for Marshall's season opener is set for 7:30 p.m. next Friday from Maverick Stadium.

Carthage will play host to Gladewater, also at 7:30.

“When we get here Monday we’ve got to get physical because Gladewater’s gonna come in completely different than Pittsburg and Marshall offensively," Surratt said. "They’re gonna run right at us, and we’ve got to keep our gap integrity and be physical because those backs aren't gonna tackle themselves. It’s a hard first draw but we’ll be excited for it.”

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