PREVIEW: Defending 4A Champs PG + Carthage Meet Friday Night
No. 4 Pleasant Grove Hawks (4-1)
No. 1 Carthage Bulldogs (4-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Bulldog Stadium, Carthage
- Pleasant Grove: Josh Gibson
- Carthage: Scott Surratt
- Pleasant Grove: def. Chapel Hill, 49-0
- Carthage: idle
- Pleasant Grove: vs. Pittsburg, Oct. 12
- Carthage: vs. Van, Oct. 12
Players to watch
- DE Landon Jackson, Soph., 6-5, 222 (39 tackles, 9 for loss, 2 sacks, 16 QB pressures, 2 PBUs, 3 forced fumbles)
- DT Marcus Burris, Soph., 6-4, 240 (21 tackles, 2 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 PBU)
- QB Ben Harmon, Jr., 6-1, 185 (30 of 58, 656 yards, 9 TDs, 1 INT; 21 carries, 145 yards, 2 TDs)
- RB Bruce Garrett, Jr., 5-11, 187 (70 carries, 561 yards, 4 TDs)
- WR Jackson Cobb, Jr., 5-10, 155 (13 catches, 255 yards, 2 TDs)
- CB Tyler Kelley, Sr., 5-7, 160 (29 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs, 1 defensive TD)
- RB James Wiggins, Sr. (69 carries, 470 yards, 5 TDs)
- LB Shayne Nelson, Sr. (27 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT)
- QB Gunner Capps, Sr., 6-1, 195 (65 of 100, 864 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs)
- WR Kelvontay Dixon, Jr., 6-0, 170 (23 catches, 368 yards, 3 TDs)
- OL Ty'kieast Crawford, Jr., 6-6, 310 (committed to Baylor)
- DB Ja'Corey Ware, Sr., 6-0, 170 (9 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 PBU)
- RB Tucker Smith, Sr., 5-11, 180 (55 carries, 333 yards, 8 TDs; 12 catches, 117 yards, 3 TDs)
- LB Rayvon Ingram, Jr., 5-10, 205 (34 tackles, 5 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 1 PBU, 1 fumble recovery)
- DL DJ Hicks, Jr., 6-2, 200 (18 tackles, 3 for loss, 5 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- TE Kaden Holcomb, Sr., 6-1, 180 (10 catches, 170 yards)
Just the facts
- Carthage and Pleasant Grove were each 16-0 last season, winning 4A state championships. Carthage outscored opponents, 745-327, while Pleasant Grove held a 695-261 advantage.
- Carthage has won a state-best 30 consecutive games. Its last loss occurred on Oct. 7, 2016 against Kilgore.
- Pleasant Grove is averaging 39.6 points and 437.2 yards per game -- 304.4 rushing and 132.8 passing.
- The Hawks have six players with rushing touchdowns, and four with receiving scores.
- Pleasant Grove is allowing 22.6 points per game, and has forced 12 turnovers -- seven interceptions and five fumbles.
- Carthage is averaging 51 points and 383.3 yards per game -- 167.3 rushing and 216 passing.
- Bulldog senior running back Tucker Smith has accounted for 11 of his team's 22 offensive touchdowns.
- Carthage is allowing 23.5 points per game, and has forced 14 turnovers -- 10 interceptions and four fumbles.
Key matchup: Pleasant Grove rushing attack vs. Carthage defensive front. The Hawks' Wing-T offense, while it passes the ball more than most who operate out of the formation, still averages more than 300 rushing yards per game. In fact last season, Pleasant Grove had three 1,000-yard rushers en route to the 4A Division II state championship. One of them returns in junior Bruce Garrett, who enters Friday's non-district finale at No. 1 Carthage with at team-best 561 yards and four touchdowns. Senior James Wiggins has been a solid compliment with 470 yards and a team-leading five TD's. If those two are getting the job done on the ground, that brings Pleasant Grove's passing attack into play. Junior quarterback Ben Harmon averages almost 12 passing attempts per game, but nine of his 30 completions on the year have gone for touchdowns. Junior receiver Jackson Cobb averages almost 20 yards per catch.
Carthage's run defense has been hit or miss through its first four games of 2018. For the season, the Bulldogs are allowing an average of 143.5 rushing yards per game. Two of Carthage's wins have been by 41 points or more, and in those two games against Jacksonville and Gilmer, the opponents were limited to a total of 95 yards and an average of only 2.2 yards per carry. However in Carthage's two most competitive games, against Liberty-Eylau and Marshall, the run defense has been much less impressive. Liberty-Eylau picked up 160 yards on the ground on only 13 attempts, while Marshall rolled up 319 rushing yards. If Carthage allows Pleasant Grove to get into a rhythm running the ball, the Hawks stand a chance of pulling off the upset.
Don't be surprised if: Carthage's offensive game plan includes several quick passes into the flat, and less slow-developing run plays. Pleasant Grove might have the area's most talented defensive line with sophomores Landon Jackson and Marcus Burris up front. One of the best ways to negate a menacing pass rush is to make sure the ball is out of the quarterback's hand as quick as possible. Fortunately for Carthage, its playbook is well-equipped to handle that. Junior receiver Kelvontay Dixon often does his damage with runs after the catch, and senior running back Tucker Smith has 12 catches and three TD receptions so far this season. The stretch play, a longtime staple of the Bulldogs, takes a while to develop, so we might see less of that on Friday night.