Third-seeded Carthage saw its six game winning streak and its season end on a chilly night in Springfield Wednesday as second-seed Hillcrest knocked off the Tigers 49-20 in the semifinals of the Class 4, District 4 playoffs.
In a game where the Tigers had plenty of opportunities and mistakes both, Hillcrest extended a 1-point lead in the third quarter with four touchdowns in the final 18 minutes to advance to the district championship Monday against Webb City, who dispatched Republic 48-7 Wednesday.
Carthage scored first in the game after receiving the opening kickoff and orchestrating a clock-eating 63-yard drive capped off by a touchdown pass from Jordan Musser to Seth Beckner, both seniors. That gave the Tigers a 6-0 lead after the missed extra point.
Hillcrest, which improved to 10-1 with the win, answered quickly and took a 7-6 lead in just five plays when Juwan Johnson scored on a 28-yard run at the 4:21 mark in the first quarter.
Carthage then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Hornets possession at the Carthage 34-yard line. Four plays later, quarterback Micah Liming scored on a 7-yard run to make it 14-6 Hillcrest.
The Tigers got the ball back at their own 24 with 3:24 left in the quarter and moved the ball to the Hillcrest 35 before Musser connected with Jordan Dangerfield for a long touchdown pass over the middle. Again, though, Carthage missed the extra point, and Hillcrest still led 14-12.
On their next drive, the Hornets proved they could eat up some clock, too. Hillcrest went on a 65-yard drive that lasted 13 plays and consumed more than five minutes from the clock, and extended its lead to nine points when Johnson rushed it in from 18 yards out.
Carthage then looked to close the gap before the half. and the Tigers drove from their own 35 to the Hillcrest 40 in four plays. A 1-yard loss and an incomplete pass set up a fourth-and-6, and Musser looked to receiver E.J. Morgan for the first down, but the pass was deflected by a Hillcrest defender before Morgan got his hands on it for a reception to the Hornets' 33.
Carthage drove to the Hillcrest 22 and Musser looked to Morgan in the end zone, but the pass was broken up, and this time Morgan couldn't come up with it. That set up another fourth down, and Musser's pass was intercepted by Taylor Moore, who returned the ball all the way to the Carthage 45.
Hillcrest looked to add a quick score, but the Carthage defense held and the Tigers trailed 21-12 at halftime.
The Hornets returned the favor to start the third quarter, fumbling the opening kickoff, and Dangerfield recovered to give the Tigers possession at their own 44.
Carthage moved the ball to the Hillcrest 37, but faced another fourth down, this time for two yards. Beckner got the carry and gained seven. Two plays later, Musser passed to Dangerfield, and the ball appeared to be intercepted but Dangerfield got his hands on it and the players fought for possession. The end result was Carthage ball at the Hillcrest 17, and four plays later Beckner scored to cut the lead to 21-20 with 6:32 remaining in the third after Dangerfield scored on the two-point conversion.
Page 2 of 2 - Hillcrest answered quickly, covering 70 yards in three plays and taking a 28-20 lead when quarterback Jonah Hill scored on a 32-yard run.
Carthage threatened to score again, using three Beckner rushes, a Musser pass to Morgan and Musser pass to Beckner to get to the Hornets' 25, but three-straight incomplete passes, including one on fourth down, gave the ball back to the Hornets.
That's when the Tigers' defense rose to the occasion, stopping Hillcrest and forcing the Hornets to punt after three plays.
Carthage got the ball back at its own 38, down by eight, with a minute left in the third, and the Tigers moved into Hillcrest territory before Beckner fumbled on a screen play at midfield.
Still, the Tigers defense then forced the Hornets to punt again after three plays, and Carthage got the ball at its own 21 with 10:48 left in the game, still down by eight.
A holding call on first down backed Carthage up to its own 10, then Matt Rush intercepted Musser at the 20 and Hillcrest scored in two plays for the 15-point lead.
Carthage's next possession ended on a fourth-down run to the Hillcrest 27 by Musser, but it wasn't enough for the first down, and the Hornets added two more scores before the game was over.