A view of Kilgore’s offense, including (from left, in white) Thomas Hattaway (13), Dalton McElyea (5), Cayden Croley (52), Christian Estrella (65), and Devin Coleman (77), as the Bulldogs faced Palestine. Kilgore blew by Palestine and had last week off. The Bulldogs (3-2) host Mabank in a district game here on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

It’s been two weeks since Kilgore won its first District 9-4A, Division I game, and everybody knows what happens when you open the door and let dogs out after they’ve been penned up a while.

Look out, Mabank.

Kilgore (3-2, 1-0 in district play) hosts Mabank (3-3, 0-2) this Friday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium. It’s the first meeting ever between the schools in football, after a UIL realignment that removed Carthage and Van from the district and replaced them with Mabank and Lindale.

Hear the game live on KDOK 105.3-FM and online at; Ragin’ Red Broadcasting is in its 39{sup}th{/sup} year of calling the games. Tickets are limited due to social distancing, thanks to COVID-19 precautions, but can be purchased online by going to, Tickets are $5 each this year (no reserved sections this season due to COVID) and also there’s a $1.25 fee.

There’s a link there, as well, for a live stream online of Kilgore-Mabank.

On the field, it’s been rough sledding for the Panthers the last two weeks. District 9-4A, DI hasn’t been kind whatsoever. They ran into Lindale first, two weeks ago, and dropped a 62-21 decision, and then lost to Palestine last week, 42-13.

Their other results this year: a 17-12 home loss to Bullard; a 36-6 win over Kemp; a 42-0 win over Wills Point; and a 34-7 win over Van Alstyne. Kemp, Wills Point and Van Alstyne have a combined record of 5-11.

Counting this season, the Panthers are 12-34 since the beginning of the 2016 season, but to be fair, they’ve progressed each year. They were winless in 2016, won once in 2017, twice in ’18 and had a 6-4 season a year ago.

Kilgore is led by coach Mike Wood, who is in his 11{sup}th{/sup} season as head football coach and athletic director at KHS, after a long tenure as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

Wood and his assistant coaches try for a balanced offense, and for the most part, they achieve it. Running back Tray Epps leads the Ragin’ Red in rushing right now with 507 yards on 79 carries, and four scores. He had one of them in the Bulldogs’ last game, before the open date, against Palestine, a 67-yarder in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

But Epps also has good hands out of the backfield, as does Jermaine Roney and all of the Kilgore running backs. Epps had a 45-yard touchdown catch from Dalton McElyea in the first quarter of that game, and then McElyea found Roney for another, also from 45 yards out, in the second half.

Let’s talk about McElyea a bit. After starting off with his hair on fire a year ago, including guiding Kilgore to a three-overtime win over Pine Tree, McElyea helped the Bulldogs back to the playoffs – they’ve only missed twice since 1995, and only once under Wood.

And McElyea looks like his old self. In fact, he’s third in East Texas football programs – only trailing quarterbacks at Gilmer and Gladewater – in passing yards. McElyea has completed 70-of-103 passes for 1,022 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

He’s got a host of targets. Along with Epps and Roney (who has 20 catches for 274 yards and that aforementioned score), McElyea has Cade Pippen, who seems to always be able to get open, as well as Brian Brown, Omarion Smith, Corey Rider, Matthew Tyeskie, Jacobe Weick, and Thomas Hattaway. All are capable of getting McElyea out of a jam.

There is one more: Donovan Adkins.

Adkins, who’s a natural defensive back, is a very good receiver in his own right. He has 13 catches for 239 yards this year and four touchdowns, one against Palestine that opened up the scoring. Adkins is a multi-talented player: he scored three touchdowns against Palestine in three different ways: a 14-yard catch, a 47-yard punt return and a 28-yard interception return, and the pick-six was just two plays after the punt return for the score.

Epps has 10 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns, and Pippen has 10 for 111 yards and a score (the first one of the season, against Carthage back on Aug. 28).

Defensively, Kilgore has looked very solid under first-year coordinator Chad Loper, who assumed the reins of that post after his father, Les, retired following the 2019 season. Loper has a dangerous group in Eli Caruthers, Davin Rider, Brian Brown, Chris Ervin, Adkins, Kaden Kenney, Alex Chavez and a host of others. When Rider’s coming, if you have the ball, it’s not good; he’s got bad intentions.

Caruthers leads the Bulldogs with 39 tackles this season. Rider has two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

In district play headed into this week, Lindale is 2-0; Kilgore and Henderson are each 1-0 (Kilgore beat Palestine and Henderson beat Athens); Palestine and Chapel Hill are each 1-1; and Athens and Mabank are each 0-2.

Kilgore visits Chapel Hill next Friday, Oct. 16, hosts Henderson Oct. 23, goes to Athens Oct. 30, and finishes off the regular season by hosting Lindale on Nov. 6.


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