Carthage is rarely an underdog. Since 2007, head coach Scott Surratt and the Bulldogs are 33-4 in the playoffs. Carthage reached that mark with a 34-0 victory over previously unbeaten Stafford, setting up a third-round playoff matchup with defending state champion Navasota.

“We played so hard on tape,” said Surratt of his team’s performance against Stafford. “We executed phenomenally, especially in the second half. I was really pleased with how we played in the second half. Our defense executed the whole game, but our kicking game and offense got going in the second half. Our running game was a big part of that.”

The reward for getting past Stafford is a date against a Navasota team that hasn’t lost since 2013. The Rattlers feature one of the best passing games in Texas high school history. Quarterback Shelton Eppler has thrown 53 touchdowns to just one interception this season. Wide receiver Tren’davian Dickson became Texas’ all-time touchdown reception leader this season.

“How Navasota throws the ball obviously sticks out. They tackle very well,” Surratt said. “They’re very sound with alignment and assignments on defense. It is hard to see those stats at Navasota and not have a lot of respect for what they can do with the ball.”

Carthage is used to big games. The Bulldogs have won four state championships since 2007. This gives Surratt and the Carthage program a unique view on spotlight matchups.

“It’s a third-round opponent and that’s how we’re looking at it,” Surratt said. “If we need extra motivation this time of year, we’re already in a lot of trouble. We’re focused on this not being our last Monday or Tuesday practice. We don’t want anything we do this week to be the last time we do it. And I’m talking mostly about the seniors. We want to play hard for them and go out right.”

Carthage will be hard pressed to stop Navasota. The Rattlers’ offense is going to score points. The key will be limiting possessions and creating opportunities, according to Surratt.

“We need to get pressure on the quarterback and stop the run. Other than the Kilgore game, I think we’ve won the line of scrimmage. We’ll have to do that again this week,” he said. “We feel very confident in our front-four and think that is one of our main strengths. We’ll need them to help stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback this week. We can’t let their quarterback sit in a clean pocket and expect to stop them.”

The Bulldogs are battle-tested entering this game. Carthage faced a tough non-district schedule before the usual district grind. Surratt’s team has three losses on its ledger, but those three losses came by a combined seven points and each was to a playoff team.

“After the Kilgore game, we were very disappointed. We thought we left a lot of plays on the field and didn’t give it our best effort. We weren’t physical enough and that wasn’t acceptable. Our seniors held a meeting and we’ve been more physical and haven’t left as many plays on the field since,” Surratt said. “Close games come down to execution. You can play hard and physical, but you must also execute. We’re confident heading into a close game because we’ve been in close games. We’ve been on both sides of close games this year, so we know it comes down to the execution of each play. We’ve grown up a lot since the beginning of the season.”