CARTHAGE The Indian River football team entered Friday nights game against Carthage in quest of winning its division outright as well as earning a home game in the playoffs.
The Warriors took care of business by delivering a dominant performance on both sides of the ball to secure both as well as one of the top two seeds in the Section 3 Class A playoffs.
Sophomore running back Jason Smith rushed 131 yards, including for three touchdowns in the first half, and senior quarterback Kody Smith threw for two scores in the second half as Indian River rolled past Carthage, 48-14, to clinch Section 3s Class A National Division championship outright.
It means a lot, Jason Smith said of the division title. Because Im just happy to be with my team after last week. We have a great team and Im happy that we have this title.
Its amazing, sophomore Densel Barnes said. Its great that we got this done for the seniors.
The Warriors (6-1, 5-0), ranked No. 22 in the state, have now won six consecutive games and will host a quarterfinal game next week.
The kids really stayed focused, Indian River coach Cory Marsell said. One of the things we were a little bit worried about is we had clinched at least a part of the Class A regular-season (division) title. We knew Carthage was battling for that other piece of that with Whitesboro, so they had a lot to play for. But our kids were able to stay focused and get it done.
While senior running back Darrius Bryant has led Indian Rivers ground game this season, Smith provided the spark early on by scoring on three straight possessions.
We had talked that teams were probably going to set up to stop Darrius Bryant and Denzel (Barnes), because those two are our gamebreakers, Marsell said. We knew Jason had to have a big game in order for us to be successful.
Then after Carthage (3-4, 3-2) had pulled to within a touchdown at 21-14 on quarterback Bailey Wilkinsons 37-yard scoring run with 5:11 left in the third quarter, the Warriors delivered the knockout blow through their passing game.
Just two plays later, Barnes hauled in a pass from quarterback Kody Smith and sped down the middle for a 56-yard touchdown and a 28-14 advantage with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
I was wide open up the middle and I knew Kody was going to look for me, so I looked back, Barnes said. It was a perfect pass.
Indian River never looked back and ran off 28 unanswered points to take control.
Theyre a good football team, Carthage coach Sam Millich said. Theyre tough, theyre extremely well coached and they get it done.
Smith got things started for the Warriors as he darted into the end zone on a two-yard scoring run with 1:03 remaining in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Two weeks ago, Jason Smith was ejected from the Warriors game with Whitesboro, but returned strong this week.
I missed out on the game last week, said Jason Smith, who rushed for 96 yards on 21 carries. But I came here with a ton of fire in my belly and I was ready.
Following a Carthage punt, the Warriors struck again as Smith busted loose on a 28-yard scoring scamper for a two-touchdown advantage with 9:17 left in the first half to finish off a 66-yard drive.
After the Comets pulled to within a touchdown as Dylan James caught a 20-yard scoring strike from Wilkinson, Smith responded with a one-yard scoring plunge with 4:01 left in the first half for a 21-7 advantage.
While Smith led the way on the ground in this game, Bryant rushed for 119 yards on 12 carries and scored a touchdown in the second half.
They have a lot of weapons and theyre fast, Millich said. ... and theyre tough defensively, too.
Indian River will look to carry this momentum into the playoffs next week against Fulton.
Its a home playoff game for us and it just means this is one more step that we wanted to accomplish, Marsell said. Im proud of these guys and now we just have to keep on going.
Carthage will play at Nottingham in next weeks sectionals.