Panthers prepare for Carthage roster loaded with talent

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By Keith Sparks

The Panthers have played some solid teams so far this season, but they’ve yet to face a team like Carthage.

The Carthage Bulldogs have won 40 games in a row dating back to 2016, winning back-to-back State Championships in 2016 and 2017, and are looking for a third in 2018.

Unlike the Panthers, Carthage boasts Division I athletes at multiple positions, including a receiver and multiple linemen that have been offered scholarships by the likes of the University of Texas, Baylor, and other FBS schools. According to Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker, that’s the case every year.

In fact, Keaontay Ingram, the Longhorns’ starting running back this season, graduated from Carthage in 2017.

“They have size, speed, and they’ll have five, six, seven Division I kids every year,” Walker said. “The running back that’s been playing for Texas all year is from there, graduated last year. Their receiver has been offered by Texas, their tackle is going to Baylor, the other tackle has been offered by everybody.”

The Bulldogs’ talent isn’t a coincidence, either. Their facilities are among the best in the state, and their coaches are paid among the best in the state, which, along with their history of success, leads to a lot of move-in athletes that want to play football at the next level.

“With their facilities, they take football very seriously,” Walker said. “They have a 100-yard indoor facility. It’s pretty nice. Their head coach is the second-highest paid coach in the state of Texas. They’re serious about their football in that part of the world. They have kids that live to play. Any time you’re back-to-back State Champions and on a 40-game win streak, we’re going to have to be on our A-game.”

Offensively, Walker said the Bulldogs are as well-balanced as anybody they’ve played, effectively splitting time between the spread offense and putting their quarterback under center with running backs deep in the backfield.

“They’re not as spread as most people we play,” Walker said. “I don’t even know if they’re 50-50 in spread, they’re more of a zone run team. They like to run the football. They have two quick running backs back there deep, and they run some stretch plays. They’re under center probably half the time, but they’re pretty balanced.”

The Bulldogs have two star running backs, including Tucker Smith (#26), a senior that’s rushed for exactly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Mason Courtney (#24), a sophomore that’s rushed for 934 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“They run the ball different ways,” Walker said. “They play action you, they run the boot and stuff like that. They’re about 50-50 shotgun and under center, but they’re more about their power running right at you, getting it to a back deep in the backfield and finding creases, cutting back and bouncing outside.”

Both running backs’ jobs are made easier by a massive offensive line that towers over the Panther defense, a few of which have committed to play Division I football at the next level.

“Their tackle is 6’6” 310, and they probably average 6’3” 290 on the offensive line,” Walker said. “They’ve got great size and skill. They’ve got good running backs, a good quarterback, some good receivers you have to cover, and they’re really, really big up front. They get in your way and do a good job of zone blocking. Their running backs are real quick and good at finding a crease if they spread you out a little bit and play action you.”

Their quarterback, senior Gunner Capps (#11), has thrown for 3,369 yards and 42 touchdowns while throwing only five interceptions. He spreads the ball around well, having thrown at least three touchdown passes to six different receivers. Their most impactful receiver, however, is junior Kelvontay Dixon (#10), who’s caught 78 passes for 1,184 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging just under 100 yards per game.

The Bulldogs’ defensive line may be even bigger than their offensive line, so the Panther linemen and running backs will have to execute as well as they have all season in order to get anything going on the ground.

“Defensively, I don’t know if there’s just one guy that you’d say is leading the defense,” Walker said. “They have another Ingram, (Keaontay’s) brother I believe, playing linebacker for them that’s a really good player. Their D-line is really, really good. On film, they look about 6’4” 220, all of them, and run really, really well.”

According to Walker, it does no good to focus on the abilities of Carthage, so they’ll continue to worry about themselves instead of being concerned with what the other team does.

“We can’t control how big and how fast they are,” Walker said. “We can only control ourselves, so we’ve just got to really focus on us and do what we do best. We’ll try to come up with a good game plan, and hopefully our kids play hard and get after them. If we show up and get off the bus and play hard, good things can happen.”

The State Semifinal matchup between the Liberty Hill Panthers and Carthage Bulldogs will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cy-Fair FCU Stadium at Berry Center in Cypress.

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