Tom Atkins gave them a sniff with a goal with a minute remaining but the Blues hung on.
After dwelling on their slow starts all week, the Blues jumped from the barriers with a goal from Betts after 44 seconds to start at run that saw them kick nine goals in the first half and restricted the untidy Geelong to just four.
It was the first time the Blues had kicked nine goals in the first half since round 10, 2016, when they managed 10 goals, coincidentally, against Geelong at Marvel Stadium.
Having heard Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson say Geelong “are not that good” on Thursday night, the Cats proved him right in the first half with a lacklustre effort that seemed to indicate they thought they were much better than they were entitled to think.
Carlton were simply too good early for Geelong, combining early pressure with good ball use, hitting targets inside 50 with Levi Casboult and Harry McKay causing drama for the Cats’ defenders who were found flat footed as the Blues looked to hit targets in space in the narrow pockets at GMHBA Stadium.
They dominated around the ball, winning ground balls while Jacob Weitering shut out Tom Hawkins, continuing his great form this season by keeping the veteran forward kickless in the first half.
The Cats lacked authority in the contest with Luke Dahlhaus removed from the game after being concussed at the 20-minute mark of the first quarter, while Ed Curnow forced Joel Selwood to rush each possession.
Patrick Dangerfield wasted opportunities and Jack Steven looked rusty and nervous. Rhys Stanley could not maintain his round-two form, the Blues’ Marc Pittonet way more competitive. Rohan was Geelong’s only winner.
On the other hand the Blues took their chances, with Casboult, Betts and the maligned Mitch McGovern – who was in the headlines this week after his former club Adelaide suggested he left for money, a claim his manager denied – kicking two goals apiece in the first half.
With Geelong in trouble at the long break Chris Scott decided to start the three veterans, Dangerfield, Selwood and Ablett in the middle, but it didn’t help with Carlton kicking the first two goals of the quarter to open up a 42-point lead, a piece of Betts magic setting up Murphy.
With no crowd to help lift them the Cats could not reverse the momentum until they threw caution to the wind, attacking through the middle at every opportunity and Carlton – who were out on their legs – panicked.
GEELONG 1.2 4.6 6.7 11.11 (77)
CARLTON 5.3 9.5 12.6 12.7 (79)
Geelong: Hawkins 2, Rohan 2, Selwood, Guthrie, Stanley, Taylor, Bews, Miers, Atkins.
Carlton: Betts 2, McGovern 2, Casboult 2, Murphy 2, Cripps 2, McKay, Gibbons.
Geelong: Rohan, Duncan, Selwood, Tuohy.
Carlton: Cripps, Docherty, Pittonet, Curnow, Casboult, Betts.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.