El Campo's quest for state title blocked by 3A powerhouse
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El Campo vs Carthage
7: 30 p.m. kick off, Friday at Provost-Umphrey Stadium in Beaumont.
RADIO: KULP 1390 AM (El Campo)
EL CAMPO - Last week's Class 3A, Division I quarterfinal game against Ingleside was closer than it seemed for El Campo.
The Ricebirds' defense gave up 400 yards and led by just three points at the start of the fourth quarter after letting go of a 14-0 first half lead.
In reality, though, it was just two plays that gave Ingleside hope for a victory when the fourth quarter began and El Campo led 17-14.
The Mustangs' Tristen Barajas connected on two long passes that led to touchdowns by receivers who beat their defender. The first came midway through the second quarter for 39 yards and the other came late in the third quarter when Terrance Robinson beat his defender for an 88-yard touchdown.
It is plays like those that could cause problems for El Campo (13-0) when it squares off against Carthage (11-2) at Provost Umphrey Stadium in Beaumont.
"We hope our guys will stay back and understand and have to pick up the speed of the game," El Campo head coach Bob Gillis said. "You can cover a guy in practice, but it's a different speed in a game. We'll have to pick it up even more this week. Hopefully, we got their attention in film this week."
The Ricebirds face their toughest challenge yet in the quest for the school's first ever state championship. Carthage has won eight games since its last loss (29-27 to Whitehouse in September) and has won each of its last two games by 30 points.
However, the Bulldogs' recent history is even more impressive. Carthage won three straight state championships from 2008-2010 and a year ago was knocked out of the playoffs by Argyle in the regional round by just one point.
"Obviously, they're a good program and a good team," Gillis said. "They have been the best team in 3A. We haven't been in 3A. We've been in 4A. So, we're looking forward to the challenge."
"Its motivation," senior running back Jack Davis said. "Football is the same thing. Anybody can be beaten."
Carthage runs a balanced, pro-style offense with multiple formations and is able to throw the ball as well as run it.
"They like to run it, but they can pass the ball. If the run game works, they're going to run it," Gillis said. "They have two tall receivers who can catch the ball and run. They have several running backs that can run well. The key is their offensive line and they're big up front."
The big men in the trenches will have a bigger role than ever this week. Carthage head coach Scott Surratt emphasized how important it was for the team to win the battle along the lines.
"We have to win the battle in the trenches because that is what El Campo is all about," Surratt said. "If they win the battle, they'll wear us out."
The Ricebirds have the size and ability upfront, but so does Carthage. The Bulldogs' defensive line features Isaiah Golden, a 6-foot, 2-inch defensive tackle committed to play for Texas A&M next year, who has the ability to disrupt the Ricebirds' rushing attack and shut down the running lanes to one side by himself.
"He's an excellent football player," Gillis said about Golden. "I understand we run the ball and I understand other teams will line up to stop our run. We know that going into a game. We have to be able to adjust to do some different things if that's the case."
The Ricebirds head to Beaumont as the lone unbeaten team remaining in Class 3A and the chance to make history with a trip to the state championship game in Arlington next week.
"I think they understand the history," Gillis said about his players. "You know, everybody understands we're in the final four and if we win we'll play for a state championship. We also understand every team is good right now and offer different challenges. I don't think we have to talk about it."
For now, though, the Ricebirds must defeat one of Class 3A's powerhouse football programs.