The Kennedale Wildcats ran into a buzzsaw Friday in the Class 4A Division I state championship game at AT&T Stadium.
Carthage used a balance offense, an aggressive linebacking corps and a series of big plays to roll past Kennedale, 49-21, to win the state title.
A crowd of 18,043 saw the the Bulldogs win a second consecutive UIL state title and their sixth championship in 10 years. Carthage finished the season undefeated at 16-0, while winning its 26th game in a row.
“We knew they had a good team,” said Kennedale coach Richard Barrett, whose Wildcats finished 14-2. “We knew we had our work cut out for us.”
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Carthage scored the first seven times it had the ball, including all four of its first-half possessions, and didn’t punt until 3:07 was left in the game. The Bulldogs scored on five plays of 39 yards or more.
As good as Carthage was on offense, the Bulldogs were more impressive in shutting down the Kennedale rushing attack. The hard-charging Wildcats averaged almost 53 points a game during five playoff games and only once were held under 50 points during the regular season.
Carthage’s Mykel Gates was chosen as the Defensive Player of the Game, swarming all over the field while leading the Bulldogs with 11 tackles. “He’s a heck of a player,” Barrett said. “He always seemed to be in the hole right where we were going.”
Gates and his fellow linebackers Ahmad Brown and Jose Dejulian combined to make 29 tackles. “Their linebackers just had a great day,” Kennedale senior lineman Andrew Flanagan said.
Carthage quarterback Gunner Capps was chosen as Offensive Player of the Game, though the performance of several Bulldogs made the voting close.
Capps completed 16 of 21 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Keaontay Ingram carried the ball 15 times for 163 yards and three TDs. Ingram scored on rushes of 20, 41 and 65 yards, while Capps threw a 64-yard TD to Colbert and a 76-yarder to Dee Bowens.
Wide receiver Mekhi Colbert caught eight passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. His 191 receiving yards was a 4A championship-game record, besting Daingerfield’s Steve Stratsman total of 183 in 1985.
Even though the 2017 season ended with a loss, Barrett said the Wildcats had a great year.
“The chemistry was the most essential thing I saw all year from this group,” he said. “It was really a great group.”
Senior linebacker Ector Rivera, who led the Wildcats with seven tackles, said, “We made it to state. It was obviously a great season.”
Kennedale scored at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, then with 10 seconds remaining in the game.
Trailing 14-0, the Wildcats marched the ball 69 yards in nine plays, the first four in the first quarter. David Roper caught a 37-yard pass from Evan Jowers with 9:50 left in the second quarter for the TD.
Kennedale trailed 42-7 before it scored again. The Wildcats went 78 yards in 15 plays, the longest being a 13-yard gain. The drive included nine plays in the third quarter and ended with a four-yard D.J. Kirven rushing TD with 10:22 left in the game. Kirven carried 20 times for 111 yards.
Jaden Knowles’ four-yard TD run with 10 seconds remaining in the game made the final score 49-21. Knowels finished with 61 yards on 15 carries.