Just by looking at a few key offensive statistics, one might think Friday was a bad offensive night for the Carthage football team at Branson.
The Tigers possessed the ball seven times in the first half, and six of those lasted a minute or less. The Pirates dominated time of possession in the first two quarters, with Branson holding on to the ball for 14 minutes and 33 seconds compared to Carthage's 7:32.
The difference: Carthage scored on the first play of its first two possessions and rolled to a 41-0 halftime lead before winning 48-14 to improve to 5-2 overall.
"That was one of our keys," Carthage head coach Jon Guidie said. "We wanted to score early on these guys. They're very run-dominant. We didn't feel like they had the offensive style to play catch up against so we wanted to get a fast start and get up early."
And the Tigers did just that.
On Carthage's first offensive play of the game, from its own 28-yard line, senior quarterback Jordan Musser passed to wide open senior running back Seth Beckner, who outraced the defense a touchdown just 15 seconds into the game.
After a Branson punt, Carthage got the ball at its own 43, ready to do more damage. A false start penalty moved the ball back five yards, then a holding penalty nullified a 14-yard run by Beckner, but Beckner then scored from 62 yards on a screen pass from Musser. Eli Monzon's PAT made it 14-0.
The Tigers' third possession was the longest of the first half. Carthage got the ball at its own 15 with 5:06 remaining in the first quarter and overcame two holding penalties and a fumble to take a 21-0 lead when Musser passed to EJ Morgan for 11 yards just six seconds into the second quarter.
Carthage then got the ball at the Branson 30 when Dylan Mellies recovered a fumble. The very next play, Beckner broke several tackles and scored for the 28-0 lead.
Gabe Franklin intercepted a pass on the next Branson drive and returned it into Pirates territory, setting the Tigers up at the 45. Musser passed to Tyler Ralston on first down, then Beckner rushed to the 16 before scoring with 7:54 left in the half.
The Pirates drove to the Carthage 27 midway through the second, where they faced a third-and-5, but Angus Sprenkle sacked Branson's Chandler Hall for a five yard loss, then the Tigers stopped a fourth down screen for an eight yard loss.
Beckner rushed for 40 yards on first down, then scored on a pass from Musser to give Carthage the 41-point lead.
Branson ended the running clock quickly in the third quarter, scoring on its first possession on a 51-yard pass play, but with Franklin in at quarterback and Cameron Priester in at running back, the Tigers went up 48-7 on a 21-yard score by Priester.
Page 2 of 2 - Branson scored again on its next drive, but it was too little, too late for the Pirates.
The Carthage defense, meanwhile, played arguably its best game of the season, a week after doing the same against Republic. The Tigers limited Branson to 199 rushing yards and 95 passing yards.
"They played fantastic," Guidie said. "I'm so proud of those guys. They've been getting criticized all year long. They just kept fighting, kept fighting, kept getting better every week and it's starting to pay off. Those guys are growing up a little bit on that side."
Derrick Moore led the team with 15 tackles in the game, including 10 solo stops, and Alex Kennedy made 12 tackles. Bryan "Bubba" Burns had two tackles for a loss and a pass break up which nearly turned into an interception and defensive touchdown for the defensive lineman.
Offensively, Carthage tallied 298 yards on the ground and 256 through the air. Musser completed all eight pass attempts for 204 yards and four scores, Franklin was perfect in four attempts for 41 yards and Ralston Schramm was 1-for-2 for 11 yards.
Beckner had five receptions for 175 yards and three scores, Morgan had three catches for 36 yards and a score, Kennan Harrison had two catches for 17 yards, Tom Simmons had one 15-yard reception and Ralston had two catches for 13.
"We want to get the ball to Beckner in space, and it was blocked well every time we ran the screen," Guidie said. "The receivers did a tremendous job blocking on the edge, our offensive linemen got out and led him, it was a team effort."
Beckner rushed for 189 yards and two scores in 10 carries and Priester had 76 yards and a score on 11 carries.
Franklin and Priester were key on Carthage's longest drive of the game as the Tigers ran 14 plays and ate 7:22 from the clock in the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. The drive began at the Carthage 26 and ended at the Branson 29 when the Tigers fumbled the ball.
"Gabe and Priester, those two guys can start for a lot of teams," Guidie said. "They're very capable and Gabe hasn't got a lot of experience yet so we wanted him to get some experience against varsity competition with our first offensive line. Those two guys did a great job."
Up next for the Tigers is a trip to Nixa next Friday to face an Eagles team currently 5-2 after a 41-21 loss at Ozark Friday.
Carthage then hosts Willard.