When skies are stormy, dark and gloomy, optimists attempt to see silver linings in that clouds.
Nixa football coach Richard Rehagen found himself searching for silver linings on a glum Friday night. His team moved the ball, they made defensive stops at key times, but the result was nil—a 35-0 home loss to Carthage in the opening game of the 2019 high school football season.
“We’ve got a fairly young football team. I thought we were learning some things, but I thought there were some things that I really liked. There are some things to build on, for sure,” Rehagen said.
Rehagen said Nixa often looked like what it was, a young and unproven group taking on a talent-laden and tested Carthage squad with serious playoff aspirations.
Carthage made it seven consecutive wins over Nixa in a streak dating back to 2015 that includes two district playoff victories. In 2018, Carthage went 11-2 in 2018 and reached the Class 5 playoff semifinals.
Nixa fell behind 21-0 by the end of the first quarter. Carthage got two early rushing touchdowns from senior Tyler Mueller, and the Eagles gave up a touchdown on an 8-yard sweep to Marcus Huntley. The Eagles and Tigers then played through a scoreless second quarter.
“I thought our kids rebounded pretty well. I thought our second quarter was solid, and it didn’t have to be being down 21. We had a little adversity right off,” Rehagen said.
As Nixa worked to limit the damage Carthage quarterback Patrick Carlton could inflict through the air, Mueller got going on the ground. He gashed Nixa for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries.
“That’s what we wanted to see tonight. We wanted to see those guys up front dominate, and turn Ty loose,” Carthage coach Jon Guidie said.
Guide said Carthage’s blockers keyed on the defensive ends in Nixa’s 4-3 defense. It worked, with Carlton rushing for 75 yards on nine carries to complement Mueller.
“(Nixa) had a couple of kids up front that I was concerned about. That No. 40 [Desean Downs], and the other defensive end, I thought, was good too, No. 59 [Trey Loden]. I knew they were going to be physical kids and athletic kids up front,” Guidie said.
Carlton accounted for for 2,469 yards—1,115 passing yards and 1,354 rushing yards—and 25 touchdowns in nine starts as a junior. He ended up 5-of-9 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown pass to Huntley in the season opener. He had just 21 passing yards in the first half.
“Their quarterback is a nice player over there, they’ve got a few good receivers,” Rehagen said.
Nixa quarterback Reid Potts completed 10-of-24 attempts for 127 yards and an interception against Carthage. Alex Wentz carried the ball 12 times for 74 rushing yards. Nixa drove inside the Carthage 25-yard line three times, but came away with no points. Nixa failed to convert on fourth down three times, including a fourth-and-goal from the Carthage 7-yard line in the first half.
“I thought we moved the ball okay. We moved down the field,” Rehagen said. “We moved a good part of the field, so I felt like our offense did a good job tonight. We need to finish. We need to finish, but I thought in that phase of the game there is something to build on.”
Nixa suffered its first losing season in 10 years with last year’s 3-7 campaign. Rehagen will attempt to motivate the Eagles to press on from Friday night’s loss on an unseasonably cool and cloudy August night. The early weeks of the season are for learning, he says. Youth and inexperience don’t last forever.
“You don’t stay young long. You’ll get better from it,” Rehagen said.
Nixa returns to the gridiron Sept. 6 at Republic (0-1) at 7 p.m. Republic suffered a 42-29 loss to Branson in its season opener.