A few first-half mistakes put the Kilgore High School Bulldogs in a hole here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium Friday night, and it proved to be a hole from which they couldn’t get out.
The Bulldogs bounced back with a better second half, but ultimately lost, 37-20, to Nacogdoches in the 2018 season opener for both teams.
Kilgore (0-1) will host Hallsville, the first meeting of the programs since 2011, next Friday night. Nac (1-0), a Class 5A team, will visit Lufkin.
Both teams traveled the length of the field on their first offensive possessions of the season, but on the second possession for the Ragin’ Red, Kilgore – deep in its own territory – lost the handle on the ball. A Nac defender recovered the fumble on the Kilgore 14-yard-line and the Dragons scored two plays later, a 5-yard run by sophomore back Camorian Thacker, who gave KHS problems all night. Chris Campos-Gonzalez’s extra point was good, and Nac led 7-0 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
A bobbled punt on the next Kilgore possession allowed Nac even more good field position, as they took over at Kilgore’s 24. Thacker and the Dragons’ offensive line took over again, scoring in four plays; it was Thacker again, this time on a 2-yard run, with 10:51 left in the half. It gave Nac a 14-0 advantage.
Nac made mistakes, as well. Kilgore’s Nesba Brown bobbled the kickoff and was tackled at his own 13, but the Dragons were offsides on the kick. Brown, a senior who did a nice job returning last year, got a second shot and made the most of it, returning it all the way to Nac’s 45, a difference of about 42 yards.
But Kilgore couldn’t capitalize. Nac safety Ke’andre Deckard intercepted a pass in the middle of the field by Kilgore quarterback Gus Witt, and even though Witt made a nice tackle, Nac had the ball again and again made Kilgore pay, getting a 60-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jake Smith to Jatavious Deckard. Deckard caught the ball about 20 yards off the line of scrimmage and took it the rest of the way down the Kilgore sideline for the score. That gave nac a 21-0 advantage that it owned at halftime.
In the second half, Nac took the opening possession and picked up where it left off. Smith connected with Deckard again, and Deckard dragged Kilgore defenders with him to the Bulldogs’ 40, a 34-yard pass play.
It was another pass play, though, that will leave Kilgore fans talking, one inside the KHS 5. Deckard caught a pass and was wrapped up by Kilgore defensive back Deiontrae Wheat, who appeared to stand Deckard up, with help from Bulldog teammates, and wrestle the ball from him.
Wheat bolted downfield the other way, untouched into the end zone, but officials ruled, apparently, that Deckard’s forward progress was stopped – it was a 14-point swing, as it turned out. Damorian Thacker scored three plays later on a 4-yard run. If the Wheat touchdown had been allowed, it would have been 21-7, Kilgore down by two scores with almost all the third quarter left. Instead, Kilgore trailed 28-0, a huge deficit to overcome.
It would get worse. Two possessions later, Nac’s Karlus Flanagan caught a ball from Smith that he took the distance, 72 yards, for the Dragons’ fifth touchdown of the night, a 35-0 lead.
Kilgore closed the gap a bit. Running back Kennieth Lacy broke free for a 77-yard touchdown run with 6:07 left in the third quarter, and then after Nac muffed a punt, Lacy would score again, this time from 2 yards out. But the extra point was blocked. Levi Bell from Nac got the ball off the block and returned it 90 yards for a two-point play, putting the Dragons up, 37-14.
The final score of the night was Witt hooking up with Wheat, also a receiver, on a 5-yard touchdown with just under seven minutes left. Nac was able to hold the Bulldogs off for the remainder of the contest.
For the Dragons, Smith finished 13-of-18 for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Camorian Thacker and the rest of the Dragons’ running game had 206 yards. Deckard had 113 total yards and the 60-yard touchdown catch. Flanagan had the 72-yard touchdown.
Lacy led the Bulldogs with 109 yards and his two second-half scores. Trey Epps ran hard in the second half and finished with 71 yards. Witt had 44 yards rushing and was 4-of-13 for 42 yards passing. Wheat had the 5-yard touchdown catch, and Colby Powe had a pair of catches for 36 yards. Nick Hooper had the other catch from Witt.
In the sub-varsity games played on Thursday night in Nacogdoches, Kilgore’s freshmen won big, 28-2, and the junior varsity also won, 20-7.
Each of those teams is now 1-0 and will play at Hallsville on Thursday night, starting with freshmen at 5 p.m.
For the KHS freshmen, Israel Vasquez had a 4-yard touchdown catch from Thomas Donham. Daylon Branham had a blocked punt that Kendall Dunn returned for a touchdown, and Christopher Ervin had an interception, Devin Rider a pass break-up, on defense. Harold Clay Chavez had a rushing touchdown, and Thomas Hattaway caught a 38-yard pass to set up a touchdown run by Ervin. The defensive line played well all night, coach Robert Cooley noted.