IRVING — Celina's players were too exhausted for many tears after Friday night's loss.
Trying to stay in contention against a Carthage team with advantages across the board, the Bobcats led for much of three quarters before finally running out of gas in the end, losing 49-37 to the Bulldogs in the Class 3A Division II state final at Texas Stadium in the 555th and final high school playoff game ever at Texas Stadium.
"We did what we could do, but they're a great team," said senior running back Charley Waldrep. "No doubt it hurts, but we're gonna be alright."
Carthage running back Dwight Smith ran roughshod over the Bobcat defensive front for 272 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's really good, but the thing that makes him even better is their offensive line," said Celina coach Butch Ford. "Their linemen were huge. It was a physical mismatch, and it just wears you out."
Several times, the Bobcats were an eyelash away from making a big play — but the Bulldogs were just too strong and slippery.
"It's disappointing," Ford said. "One of those touchdowns, we could've had a 10-yard loss. Another was a trick play where our defensive end was at home and almost intercepted the ball. Then we had the fumble. All of those plays will eat on you."
Not helping matters was losing starting defensive tackle Brady Newman to a knee injury during pre-game warm-ups. Then backup Jose Ruiz was injured early in the game, leaving the Bobcats' inside linebackers exposed to blocks.
"Their linemen came off on us every play," said junior linebacker Caleb Lavey. "They have some stud linemen that could drive us back. It was hard to get rid of them because I'd have one or two of them on me every play."
The Bobcats, who played their 100th playoff game all-time, fell to 81-17-2 all-time in playoff contests and 8-2-1 in state finals appearances. They also suffered their first — and what will be their only — loss at the soon-to-be-demolished home of the Dallas Cowboys in seven tries.
The Bulldogs' penchant for long plays skewed an otherwise-even game statistically. Carthage had only 12 first downs to Celina's 25, and ran only 43 plays to the Bobcats' 72.
"We did some good things against them, but we could've done a little better," Waldrep said. "We'd been used to getting in that position before, and we handled it well. But a powerhouse team that keeps pounding it like that is gonna put you down sooner or later."
For more than a half, it looked as if Celina would make good in its long-shot bid for a record-extending ninth state championship.
The Bobcats (12-4) grabbed an 18-14 lead at the halftime horn on senior Troy McCartney's 5-yard pass reception from junior quarterback Cody Worrell, and seemed to have the momentum.
Despite Smith's 25-yard run giving Carthage the lead back on its opening possession of the third quarter, the Bobcats answered with a McCartney run for their third and final lead of the night. At this juncture, it was plainly evident that a team that could make a defensive stop might win this seesaw affair.
After a long pass from Si'Darius Blackshire to Jarvin Robinson set up Smith's fourth rushing TD with 4:13 to go in the third, Carthage (14-2) finally broke Celina's serve.
Coming off a time-out during which an injured official was attended-to by Carthage trainers, McCartney lost his grip on the ball, and an alert Robinson pounced on it for the Bulldogs.
Then Carthage went to the deep pages of its playbook, executing a throwback pass from Robinson to Blackshire for a 33-yard pickup to the 1. Two plays later, Blackshire bounced in to give the Bulldogs a 10-point lead.
"That pass was hard to come back from," Lavey said. "Their offense together was a powerhouse. It was hard to stop them. They could break any play, and that's what killed us."
Early in the fourth quarter, a 46-yard McCartney punt pinned the Bulldogs back at their own 4-yard line, but it didn't matter as Smith got another big hole and sprinted 89 yards for his fifth and final TD, making it 42-25 and applying the dagger to the Bobcats' hopes.
"He's a good runner," Lavey said. "We might have underestimated him a little bit. He's a good athlete."
Backup quarterback Garrett Stephenson led Celina on two scoring drives in the final 7:51 that ended with his 7-yard TD pass to senior Austin Carey, followed by McCartney's final TD of his high school career with 39 seconds left.
"We fought all the way through the season," McCartney said. "We just brushed off what everybody said."
McCartney finished with 222 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and added six pass catches for 33 yards and a TD. Waldrep, finally back to form after an injury-filled senior season, added 64 rushing and 38 receiving yards in his prep gridiron swan song.
The Bobcats drew first blood on a 31-yard Alex Juarez field goal near the end of the first quarter, but Smith showed his explosiveness with a pair of touchdown runs — including a 50-yard sprint on fourth-and-1 on a misdirection pitch where he juked a Celina tackler that appeared to have him dead to rights — for a 14-3 lead.
But Celina battled back before halftime to take the lead back. McCartney went airborne over the goal line from four yards out, then the Bobcats capitalized on a Smith fumble with 2:06 left to score on the final play of the half as Worrell sprinted to the right and threw back across his body to a wide-open McCartney in the back of the end zone.
"Physically, we're not even close to as good as they are," Ford said. "We had mismatches everywhere. What we were trying to do was keep the ball away from them. We did it in the first half pretty decently."