[By Anthony Hawthorne, Special to ETSN.fm]

GARLAND -- It was billed as the big-time showdown between a high-powered offense and the shutdown defense.

Advantage defense.

Waco La Vega used a stifling defensive effort and big-play offense to dominate the Carthage Bulldogs, 39-3, in their Class 4A Division I semifinal at Homer B. Johnson Stadium on Friday night.

The Pirates (15-0) advanced to the state finals where they will face Argyle, a 24-17 winner over Abilene Wylie, next Friday at noon from NRG Stadium in Houston.

Carthage finished its season at 11-4.

The Pirates dominated on both sides of the ball, shutting down the Carthage offense and using their speed to produce big plays.

Carthage failed to find the end zone for the first time this season, and couldn’t find a rhythm, either with the ground game or through the air.

La Vega, on the other hand, had no issues.

The Pirates got rolling on their first play from scrimmage, a 63-yard score from Jamal Williams to SMU commit Brandon Benson and never looked back.

La Vega held a 20-3 advantage at the break and blew that open in the second half.

Oklahoma commit Parrish Cobb capped a five-play, 75-yard drive on the opening possession of the third quarter with a 13-yard score, his second of the night.

The score was set up by a Williams-to-Benson 35-yard hookup and a 17-yard carry from Kendall Ratliff.

After forcing a turnover on downs, La Vega all but sealed the deal on its next possession.

Ratliff picked up 13 yards on the ground on third-and-13, and Kemoche Hobbs did the rest two plays later.

The sophomore standout had just two carries, but he did the most with them as his first went for a 15-yard score and his second capped the six-play drive when he outraced everyone for a 58-yard TD to push the Pirates' lead to 32-3.

La Vega's final tally of the night came on John Richards' first carry, a 32-yard score on third-and-8.

The ball was distributed throughout the La Vega offense as its racked up 322 yards on the ground with eight different ball carries. Only one player had more than five carries.

Ratliff had 77 yards on 18 carries, while Cobb had 85 yards on just three carries. Hobbs picked up 73 yards on a pair of carries to go along with an interception. Williams completed 7 of 12 passes for 132 yards and a score.

“They’ve got speed and we’ve got speed,” said La Vega head coach Willie Williams. “It was a matter of us just executing. Everybody has a job to do on each play and they did their job. We were able to get our kids in space, and once we get our kids in some space we can make some things happen.”

It was quite the opposite story for Carthage.

“The defense played outstanding,” Williams said. “They’ve got a great receiver, but we’ve got a great defensive back that we used to try and take him out of the equation and make someone else beat us. Overall, we’ve played well all year defensively and we proved that we’re still pretty good on that side of the ball.”

The Dawgs managed just 264 total yards of offense and converted just 5-of-14 on third downs and were 1-of-7 on fourth. They managed to move the ball well into La Vega territory on several occasions but couldn’t string together the plays needed to put points on the board.

The La Vega defensive front caused problems all night, with running back Ravodney Hardy picking up just 46 yards on 13 carries as the Bulldogs garnered just 50 total rushing yards on the night.

“It was difficult to move the ball,” said Carthage coach Scott Surratt. “We couldn’t stay balanced. We needed to stay balanced. We ran the ball well early but a 4-5 yard run was a big run for us tonight. They’ve got a great football team, and we knew it going in. We thought they were the best we had played so far, by far. Especially talent and speed-wise, and they were.”

Carthage quarterback Jarod Blissett and the passing game couldn’t get it going either.

After starting the game completing his first four passes, things fell apart with a combination of drops, a lack of open receivers and several overthrows to go along with a stout secondary and a steady pass rush preventing any rhythm at all.

The Bulldogs completed less than 50 percent of their passes, just 22 of 48 for 214 yards and an interception.

Jakeldric Jackson was held to just three catches for 33 yards and sophomore standout Dee Bowens didn’t have a catch until late in the fourth, finishing with two catches for 40 yards. Hunter Twonsend led the way with six catches for 59 yards.

Despite the loss, Blissett finished the season unofficially with 4,080 yards to pass Blake Bogenschutz for the single-season passing yardage mark at Carthage.

“He’s a great leader,” Surratt said of Blissett. “He had several drops tonight and we faced a lot of pressure. They covered our receivers and there wasn’t a lot of place to throw it. They just got after us. It is a special deal though, anytime you can have a quarterback that throws for 4,000 yards that’s special, and he had a special season for us there’s no doubt about it.”

The loss ended an impressive season for Carthage, its sixth semifinal appearance in the past eight seasons, one in which it battled numerous injuries to key players to knock off defending state champion Navasota and bounce back from a 4-3 start to make a run five rounds deep.

“This is by far the most injuries we’ve had,” said Surratt of his season. “We had more injuries this season than in our four state championship runs combined. We’re not making any excuses, we just weren’t good enough tonight.”

Waco La Vega 39, Carthage 3

Class 4A Division I Semifinal
At Homer B. Johnson Stadium, Garland

Carthage           3      0      0      0    --      3
La Vega             7    13    12      7    --    39

First Quarter
CAR--FG Rafael Hernandez 32, 9:12.
LV--Brandon Benson 63 pass from Jamal Williams (Alvaro Vargas kick), 8:59.
Second Quarter
LV--Kemoche Hobbs 15 run (Vargas kick), 10:17.
LV--Parrish Cobb 61 run (kick failed), 1:17.
Third Quarter
LV--Cobb 13 run (kick failed), 10:08.
LV--Hobbs 58 run (two-point failed), 4:51.
Fourth Quarter
LV--John Richards 32 run (Vargas kick), 8:24.

                                       CAR               LV
First Downs                         13               13
Total Yards                        264             454
Rushes-Yards                 19-50        37-322
Passing Yards                    214             132
Comp.-Att.-Int.             22-48-1        7-12-0
Punts-Avg.                     2-18.0         2-39.0
Fumbles-Lost                      1-0             2-0
Penalties-Yards                  2-20           5-35

RUSHING--Carthage, Ravodney Hardy 13-46, Hunter Townsend 1-4, Jarod Blissett 5-0. La Vega, Parrish Cobb 3-85, Kendall Ratliff 18-77, Kemoche Hobbs 2-73, Kainon Allen 5-37, John Richards 3-22, Joshua Bryant 2-17, Jamal Williams 3-11, Moses Chase 1-0.
PASSING--Carthage, Blissett 21-47-1--208, Jakeldric Jackson 1-1-0--6. La Vega, Williams 7-12-0--132.
RECEIVING--Carthage, Townsend 6-59, Hardy 6-48, Jackson 3-33, Dee Bowens 2-40, Roderic Calloway 2-9, Mason Graham 1-13, Blissett 1-6. La Vega, Brandon Benson 2-98, Chase 2-15, Kedrick James 1-12, Cobb 1-9, Ratliff 1-(-2).