Posts Tagged With: Carthage

Carthage vs. El Campo State Semifinal

Cedar Hill and Carthage 12-9 013

The Carthage Bulldogs looked like they were in complete control Friday night in Beaumont. But the Bulldogs couldn’t come up with the one play they needed to finish off the undefeated El Campo Ricebirds. Something the Texas high school playoffs have taught me is, with teams this good, the ability to finish is often the difference between advancing and going home. Those still playing are so disciplined and dangerous, situations that would make an ordinary team fold up and start thinking about the offseason are often overcome; if the team on top can’t put a boot on the neck and finish the job.

After taking a 25-14 early in the 4th, the Carthage Bulldogs had many chances to put that boot on the neck but kept letting the Ricebirds up. The next two El Campo possessions ended in turnovers. The Bulldogs failed to capitalize on either one.  Still, when El Campo took possession with 7:10 left, deep in their own territory and down by 11, the game felt under control. El Campo, had thrown just 80 passes the entire season, down by two scores with time running out, it seemed unlikely the Ricebirds could put together two scores quickly enough. Though ineffective throwing the ball, El Campo did a great job moving the ball on the ground, scoring a touchdown with 3:37 left. A successful 2 point conversion made the score 25-22 Carthage.

It was still Carthage’s game to lose, if they could just pick up a few first downs the game would be over. On second and long, the Bulldogs attempted a trick play and fumbled on their own 9 yard line. Four plays later, on 4th and 2 from the 2, the Ricebirds took their first lead of the night, 29-25 with 1:50 remaining.

The Bulldogs quickly took their last possession to the El Campo 30 yard line, but two incomplete passes set up a 4th and 2.  A quarterback draw took the ball to the marker; the chains were brought out, short by an inch and suddenly, the game and the Bulldog season is over.

At its best football, for a brief moment, feels like the most important thing in the world to the men who coach it and the kids who play it. For the past five months thousands of hours have been dedicated and the people involved have spent more time with each other than their families. In the playoffs, everything is elevated, the highs of winning and moving on are amazing, but the lows are devastating. Suddenly, everything is taken away and all that work feels like it’s been for nothing. Players realize they had just played their last game, many their last ever. After a playoff loss is the only time you’ll see teenage boys openly cry.

In the end, football is really about the life lessons it teaches the students who play it. How to deal with the crushing end of a season is the final lesson and Coach Surratt and the Carthage staff set a great example of how to lose with dignity. Coach Surratt gathered his team for the final time and told them he would take the blame for the loss because that’s what adults do instead of pointing fingers. He admonished the few who couldn’t control their emotions enough to represent Carthage in defeat. He let his team know he was proud of them and thanked them for their effort. It will be a long offseason for the Bulldog coaches and returning players, this was the type of loss that haunts you.

Carthage will return ten of eleven offensive starters in 2013. This is an excellent program and does things the right way, they will be back. I enjoyed my time in Carthage and with the Bulldog staff and players. I’m disappointment that the loss means I won’t be seeing them again for my project and it’s sad that my last time with them was watching them handle a tough loss. But, unfortunately, that’s how it usually ends in the playoffs.

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Carthage vs. Lindale

I’ve gotten several requests for a picture of the infamous scoreboard written about in the Wall Street Journal and SI. I thought about arguing about the negative press it’s gotten, but I’m tired of that, if you care about my opinion, look at my post concerning Allen’s new stadium in archives. It’s basically the same argument I’d make for the scoreboard, just a 59.3 million dollars cheaper and a few hundred miles east. Anyway for those who haven’t seen it, here is a picture.


It’s a great scoreboard, but it shouldn’t overshadow the work being done at Carthage. This is an outstanding program, run by hardworking coaches who care about the kids who play there. That this community has decided to provide a world class environment for their kids that goes way beyond a scoreboard is nothing they should have to defend to anyone.

Anyway, on to the game, Carthage bounced back from a zero week upset, beating Lindale 38-21. While they still have a lot of work to do, they took a big step forward, cleaning up some of the mistakes that cost them so much against Jacksonville. The Bulldog secondary did not give up the big play and Carthage did not put the ball on the ground. All week, the coaches emphasized that they traditionally get off to a slow start, so they didn’t panic about what happened last week. Carthage runs the most complex offense I’ve ever seen. With so many adjustments and variations build in and it often takes new starters a while to get it down. I was amazed to watch the offensive strategy sessions this week. I understood just enough to know how much I didn’t understand. The only way a system such as this can be implemented is by a large staff who provide individualized coaching, Three state championships in the last four years show that this formula works. I expect to see Carthage smooth out the rough edges as the season progresses and compete for that fourth ring in December. As Coach Surratt said repeatedly to his squad, “Its not how you start, but how you finish that matters.”

As with my zero week in La Marque, I really enjoyed my short time in Carthage and it was kind of sad to leave as the coaches were sitting down to review the game film last night.


I did leave and drove 300 miles to Port Lavaca, arriving just a little late for the morning coaches meeting. I will be with the Fighting Sandcrabs this week, Check back in a few days for an update.

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More on Carthage

Coach Surratt with team after practice Wednesday

40 something hours until the Carthage Bulldogs take the field against Lindale and some of my general impressions of the week.

-The heat this week is just awful, around 100 and humid every day, on the hot artificial turf it’s even worse,,, but I got the chance to sneak up to the air-conditioned press box for a while today.

-I get the impression this team is not in any way letting Fridays upsetting loss effect what’s going on this week. They know they’re a good team, they know they need to play better and they are confident they will. They’ll learn from the loss, fix the problems that caused it and be just fine.

-Practices at Carthage are very physical, have got a little sharper each of the last three days and a little hotter each of the last three days.

-I only know what I’ve seen on film of Lindale, and they are definitely a quality team, but if I was coaching at Carthage, I’d be cautiously confident about Friday night.

-See link for preview of Friday’s game.

One of the major factors in the quality coaching I’ve seen at Carthage this week is how well they use video and technology to supplement their instruction. Carthage tennis coach, Jim Milstead and a student assistant, film team drills, 7 on 7 and inside run sessions from two angles everyday at practice.  They quickly upload the film into the HUDL system and, often before practice ends, the film is available for the coaches and players.

With 22 bodies moving very quickly in different directions on every play, even an outstanding staff misses many of the minute details that make the difference between failure and success.  The filming system at Carthage allows the coaches and players to see and go over every step and every move by every player on each rep. during practice, from two different angles. As soon as the players come off the field they head to various meeting rooms and offices to watch and have their play critiqued by their position coaches. This makes field time much more efficient as the coaches don’t need to keep 21 players standing around waiting while they correct the mistakes of #22. Instead, they can move quickly and correct problems later in the meeting room. It also motivates the players to do well on every rep. They become very aware there is no hiding from the camera and film doesn’t lie.

The process looks so seamless that I’m guessing many of the players take it for granted. But, it is a significant investment in manpower and infrastructure that allows the coaches to do such a good job without worrying about the technical details.

Manpower comes from Coach Milstead and his assistant, the infrastructure is in the design of the fieldhouse. The fieldhouse was build with ceiling mounted video projectors in every office and conference room, all tied into to computers with internet connections allowing the uploaded video of every drill, practice and game to be instantly shown in every position meeting. At Carthage, at least, the days of rolling video carts with VHS or DVD machines attached to 35 inch, 200 lb. televisions are long in the past.

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Week One: Carthage Bulldogs

The new scoreboard everyone’s talking about, biggest HS video screen in the US.

Friday night, Carthage High School did something that’s only happened twice in since Bulldog Stadium opened, they lost a home game. The Jacksonville Indians upset the Bulldogs 34-30, Friday night in a game that the young Carthage team had many chances to put away. The game ended in heartbreaking fashion for the home team. Leading 30-27, the Bulldogs secondary intercepted a pass with less than 2 minutes  seemingly clinching the game. The sophomore cornerback had the opportunity to run out of bound or go to the ground; instead he made a move across the field, running the ball into Jacksonville territory before having the ball stripped from him. Jacksonville recovered and scored the winning touchdown a few plays later, for a 34-30 upset win.
After the game ended the Carthage coaches gathered to break down the film and go over the game until around 4:30 in the morning. At 9 AM, Saturday, several coaches and players came in to watch the film again. Yesterday, (Sunday)  the entire staff of 16 coaches came in at 1:00 to breakdown the film for the upcoming Lindale game, come up with game plans, discuss personnel packages, script practice plays and set the practice plan for Monday. This took around 9 hours and they left a little after 10 PM. At 8 this morning (Labor Day) the coaches were back at their desks, breaking down more film and preparing for practice. The kids showed up at 9. After an hour of watching film of the Jacksonville game, the Bulldogs hit the field for practice around 10. At 12:30, the coaches and players ate a delivered pizza lunch and began to watch Lindale film and film of the practice they had just completed. The team left around two PM and the coaches went to work on tomorrows practice plan.
If you think this flurry of work is due to the tough loss Friday night, you would be wrong. You would also be wrong to think this just happens at Carthage or in Texas. While the staff sizes and professional status of the coaches makes the scope of this preparation somewhat unique to the Lone Star State, committed high school staffs all around the country log similar hours. Except by the coaches (and their wives) this part of the game is mostly overlooked.
The nature of the game, with its 45 second strategy sessions between plays(huddles), video scouting, unlimited substitutions and multiple formation and play combinations make the game uniquely open to these marathon planning sessions.

Carthage defensive staff at work Sunday

It’s become a national pastime to second guess coaches’ playcalling, it’s an easy and fun game to play and coaches DO make bad decisions just like anybody else. Just remember that those coaches know more about their team and the team they’re playing than the most involved fan could ever know.
This work is a big part of coaching, hard on the families, but also part of what makes winning a football game so rewarding. Achieving something you pay a big price for is always better than winning something that comes easy and if the Bulldogs get it done next Friday, they will have  reason to celebrate.

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Before this week, I probably knew less about Carthage than any of the eleven teams I’m covering. There isn’t a lot written about them and I didn’t quite expect what I saw. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful the facilities were. The second thing was just how many kids, support staff and coaches were involved and how well coordinated everything was during the first practice. I had to keep reminding myself that this school is relatively small with only 741 students. The atmosphere was much more big time than 741 led me to believe.

                At 7:30, around 120 players took the field quickly warmed up and got into their individual groups. Shortly thereafter another 60 freshmen met on the lower field for their practice, by my math, a little more than 50% of the male enrollment of the school was participating.


The coaches tell me this will be the largest high school video board in the United States. It will be up and running on my return during Lindale week.


The first sign of a well organized practice is how rarely anyone needs to be told where to go and how quickly everyone transitions from activity to activity; by that measure Carthage was as good as it gets. The bell rang at 5 minute intervals, with coaches and position players breaking up and forming into different groupings as their schedules indicated.


I was very impressed with how much teaching was being done by the assistant coaches, to both the veterans and the less experienced players. With 120 kids, there were some greatly talented kids, but also some very average ones. The coaches didn’t differentiate; making sure everyone got a lot of instruction. This is an advantage of a well funded program.  There were enough coaches to work with everybody. Smaller staffs have to pick and choose where to focus attention and too often the less able players get shortchanged.

The other thing that stood out was just how physical Carthage was. Although only wearing helmets, the Bulldogs often brought offensive and defensive groups together and went at it. Several coaches told me this is a big part of their philosophy. They will out-physical everyone and build that concept into their practice.

I’m not in a position to know what their competition looks like, but the Carthage squad looked outstanding, a lot of speed, the QB and RB stood out as very good and the defense flew around. Like their 3A counterparts at La Marque it’s going to be a lot of fun to see this team in pads in a few weeks.


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Three towns, five practices, 26 Hours and around 400 Miles


Outside Throckmorton last evening, Longhorn cattle in front of an oil rig. Can you get much more Texas than that?


I woke up yesterday morning at 6:15 to attend the two practices at Carthage. At one PM I hadn’t yet decided where to head. I made a call to Coach Reed at Throckmorton and he told me they were going to practice at 6, have a BBQ and then get back on the field at midnight, for the first padded practice of the season. I looked at the GPS and realized I could just about cover the 300 plus miles by six and hit the road. I got to Throckmorton around 6:30, watched the end of the first practice and visited with Coach Reed then went to bunkhouse on one of his players’ ranches, he had arranged for me to sleep at. Back in town by 10 for the BBQ, before the midnight practice; watched the practice and back to the bunkhouse to sleep sometime before two AM. Got up at 6:15 and drove 50 miles to Stamford to see their first padded practice at 7:30. Then 50 miles or so to Abilene, to a hotel and a much needed nap. I got up this afternoon and am just starting to process the notes video and pictures I gathered during my lost three stops. Think I’ll stay put tomorrow. Look for forthcoming updates on what I saw in Stamford, Throckmorton and Carthage.


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