As the high school football season enters the final third of the regular season schedule, the race in Class 4, District 4 has become top heavy.
Undefeated Webb City is currently seeded first in the eight-team district, while 5-1 Hillcrest is second and 4-2 Carthage is third.
After that, no team has a winning record. Republic is seeded fourth this week with a 2-4 record, Carl Junction (2-4) is fifth, West Plains (0-6) is sixth, Marshfield (2-4) is seventh and McDonald County (1-5) is eighth.
Marshfield and Mac County play this week, Webb City plays winless Neosho and Hillcrest plays undefeated Parkview, and Carthage head coach Jon Guidie likes the position his team is in with three games remaining.
"That would be good for us," Guidie said. "Right now we're third and we have a head-to-head win over Republic, so it kind of depends on what those bottom four teams do right now. As long as we take care of business I think we can maintain that third seed and I think there's an outside chance we get that second seed."
If the season ended today, Carthage would host West Plains in the district first round. The Tigers have three games remaining, though, and look to build on momentum gained in wins against Neosho and Republic the last two weeks.
Against Republic last week, Carthage won 41-20 and the Tigers defense allowed fewer points than in any game this year.
"It was our best defensive game," Guidie said. "We put our defense in some bad situations there, especially in the first quarter when we gave up the onside kick right off the bat and fumbled twice. They played even more than what they should have or we wanted them to but they came out of that first half holding them to seven points, so we were very pleased with that."
Gabe Franklin's interception in the first quarter negated Carthage's first fumble, and then Jordan Dangerfield made an interception in the fourth quarter and Franklin recovered a fumble.
"When the game was on the line that was important for our kids to step up and make a play," Guidie said.
Carthage takes to the road this week to face a 3-3 Branson squad coming off a 51-14 defeat at Ozark.
"They're a typical Branson team," he said. "They come off the ball as well as anybody that we play offensively, their offensive line does a great job. They've got a three-year starting quarterback in Chandler Hall who runs the show very well. He does a nice job and makes good decisions, and he's very good in the play action pass game. They have a core of running backs, we've seen probably six, and they have Isaiah Daniels, the brother of Malachai Daniels who we've played the last three years. He's a very hard, physical runner."
Page 2 of 2 - The Pirates' defense is based out of a four-man front, but Guidie said they do a lot of different things behind that.
"It will be a big challenge for our offensive line to recognize those fronts and be able to execute blocking schemes versus whatever front they see," he said.