ARLINGTON— Top-ranked and unbeaten Carthage plays oncebeaten Kennedale for the Class 4A Division I championship Friday morning at AT&T Stadium.
They're playing for what high school football is all about across the length and breadth of Texas on Friday nights in the fall. Getting there, and then winning it all for your school, your fans and community.
This marks Carthage's seventh trip to the finals in school history and its sixth in coach Scott Surratt's Surratt's 11-year tenure. The Dawgs have won five titles, three consecutively 2008-09-10, as well as in 2013 and 2016.
Including the 2016 crown against Abilene Wylie (31-17), Carthage has won 25 straight games as it returns to the precipice to face 5-4A winner Kennedale, playing for its first state championship, after coming so close last year before falling to Wylie 21-13 in the semifinals.
The No. 7 Wildcats have won 10 in a row since a 23-20 loss to 2016 4A Division II champ West Orange- Stark on Oct. 6. They're averaging a hefty 54.5 points a game, and almost as good (52.6) in the playoffs against Ranchview, Van, Midlothian Heritage, Kaufman and Stephenville.
Kennedale used its power running game with some timely passes mixed in from three players to account for 1,000 yards or more this season behind a formidable offensive line in its Wing T, which racked up 543 yards rushing in its 26-point dismantling of Stephenville at AT&T Stadium last week.
It feeds defenses a steady diet of counters, fakes and a plethora of misdirection.
"We haven't faced a team (that runs the Wing T) this season, so getting used to the game scheme and adjusting to the blocking schemes as the game progresses will be a priority," said Surratt earlier this week.
That, along with the physicality of their backs running the football, are the primary concerns, facing a talented Bulldog defense anchored by what Surratt considers the best corps of linebackers (Jose DeJulian, Mykel Gates, Ahmad Brown) he's had at Carthage.
"We need to be able to match their backs being so physical and fast. It's a challenge."
Quarterback Evan Jowers (6-0, 192) has rushed for 692 yards and completed 53 of 88 passes for 1,005 yards and 10 touchdowns. That's formidable, then add what RBs Jaden Knowles and DJ Kirven provide, and you get a lethal combination of power, speed and
• WHO: Carthage (15-0) vs. Kennedale (14-1)
• WHAT: Class 4A Division I state championship game
• WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington
• WHEN: 11 a.m. Friday
• TV: Fox Sports Southwest
savvy. Knowles (5-8, 175) has rushed for 2,205 yards and 34 touchdowns, while Kirven (5-7, 166) has 2,185 yards and 41 TDs.
"Our safeties and linebackers are going to have to tackle well, and our linemen are going to have to not let them get through to the second level," Surratt continued. "We're aware of the challenges because I don't think there's any doubt this is the best offense we will have played all year."
Against Waco La Vega, DeJulian, Gates and Brown combined for 50 tackles, three for losses, a caused fumble and an interception. For the season, Gates leads with 156 tackles, 20 TFL, 6 pressures, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks and 2 scores. Brown and De- Julian are not far behind, though. Brown, who left for a semester last year before returning, has 153 tackles, 22 TFL, 3 pressures, 3 caused fumbles, a fumble recovery and 4 sacks, while DeJulian has 137 stops, 18 TFL, 6 pressures, 3 caused fumbles and 2 recoveries, to go with an interception and 3 sacks.
Mekhi Colbert has been the game-changer all year for the defense. He was again against La Vega with 4 stops and an interception (his seventh of the season), and return for a touchdown.
Surratt pointed to the play of DE Montario Wilson and DT Darrion Ingram to pressure Jamal Williams, the La Vega quarterback, and Ashton Hicks for running down John Richards, after a 55-yard scamper to the Carthage 26, as pivotal in the semifinal win.
When asked about preparation for Kennedale's high-octane offense, Surratt replied, "You do the best you can. It's not going to be at the speed of the game. You have to do a lot of film study and just play sound assignment football.
"Coach (Darren) Preston (defensive coordinator) and his guys do a phenomenal job, and they'll come up with a plan. It's my hope we can carry it out."