With one regular season game to play, this much is certain: if Kilgore beats Carthage here Friday night, the Bulldogs will again be in the playoffs, for the 23rd time in 25 years.

If Kilgore loses… well, that’s where things get a little dicey.

Kilgore (5-4) hosts Carthage Friday night at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, in the regular season finale for both teams. Carthage is 9-0, and has already clinched the District 10-4A, Division I championship. Kilgore is trying to secure one of the remaining three playoff spots.

Chapel Hill is out of contention, but four teams – Kilgore, Henderson, Van and Palestine – are all tied with a 2-2 record.

The Ragin’ Red dropped last week’s game at Palestine, 21-7, and it’s put them in a bit of a bind. The Bulldogs own the tiebreaker with Van, by virtue of a win head-to-head. But Kilgore lost to Henderson and to Palestine, creating the mess.

Kilgore beating Carthage – easier said than done – gets the Bulldogs back in the UIL Class 4A playoffs without a problem.

But If Kilgore loses to Carthage, it means the Bulldogs need Henderson to beat Van. That would leave Van and Kilgore in a tie, and Kilgore wins that tie. That would send Kilgore to the playoffs, along with Carthage, Henderson and Palestine.

A Kilgore loss to Carthage and a Van win over Henderson would keep the Bulldogs out of the postseason. That’s only happened twice in the last 25 years: 2006 and 2010.

Most every Kilgore fan knows about the rivalry with Carthage, at least the recent history. The “other” Bulldogs (they sometimes call themselves the “Dawgs,” Kilgore doesn’t) have been a powerhouse since coach Scott Surratt arrived some years ago, and Kilgore was one of the teams that Carthage defeated for a state championship back in 2013.

Since then, though, Kilgore has had a few victories over Carthage, all here at R.E. St. John – where Friday’s game is being played. Kilgore also still leads the all-time series between the two teams, 29-25, and won back-to-back games in 2015 and 2016. Carthage, though, has won the last two years.

Over the course of their championship runs, the biggest thing that stands out is their offense, players like former quarterback Blake Bogunshutz and current University of Texas standout running back Keontay Ingram. And averaging 36 points a game this season isn’t shabby. But Carthage is doing it with defense, too; they’ve only allowed 77 points all season.

Carthage lost in the playoffs last season, but has won every game so far in 2019, starting with a 48-0 beatdown of Jacksonville to kick off the year. They crushed highly-ranked Pleasant Grove, 35-14, in the non-district schedule, and last week, Carthage blasted Henderson, 34-14, in a game that wasn’t really as close, even, as the final score.

Kai Horton had 261 passing yards and a touchdown to Kel Williams. Mason Courtney ran for 97 yards, as well.

Kilgore, meanwhile, has lost four games since starting the season 3-0. But last week, the Bulldogs looked flat against Palestine, and it cost them: Palestine, which hadn’t beaten Kilgore since 2002, has improved since a season ago and went up 14-0 early on KHS. The Bulldogs halved the lead with a touchdown by Kennieth Lacy in the third quarter, but could get no closer. Palestine added an insurance touchdown and won, 21-7.

For the first time all season – in fact for the first time in years – Kilgore was held to less than 100 yards rushing, for the whole offense (they had 93). The passing game wasn’t clicking, either: Dalton McElyea, who is in his first season as a starter on varsity, but has looked much more experienced, was held to just 97 yards, and threw an interception.

Maybe the best thing to do about the Palestine game is to forget it.

On the season, Trey Epps leads the Bulldogs in rushing yards with 783, on 88 carries and seven touchdowns. His backfield-mate, Lacy, has 773 yards and 10 touchdowns on 122 carries. McElyea has completed 95-of-169 passes for 1,007 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Brian Brown has the most catches for Kilgore – 23 – and the most yards, 258. He and Donovan Adkins also are tied for the team lead in touchdown catches (four each). DaVonrick Crowe has 20 catches for 197 yards and a score, and Donovan Adkins has 19 catches for 225 yards and the four scores. Cade Pippen, who caught a pair of passes in Palestine, has 12 on the season for 107 yards.

The Bulldogs have a kicking game capable of making big plays. Chris Baldazo is 22-of-22 on extra point attempts and 4-of-6 in field goal attempts, most of them short – his longest is 23 yards. Pippen has been handling the punting duties of late; Pippen has punted four times for a 38.8-yard average, a long of 50.

Defensively against Palestine, although the Wildcats did have three touchdowns, they didn’t just burn it up. Kilgore did allow 179 rushing yards, but just 264 total yards on seven possessions. Brown, the leading tackler for the season, had 10. Six different Bulldogs – Adkins, Jayce McFarland, Zack Williams, Kentravious Anderson, Hunter Lewis, Kaden Kenney and Deundre Blanton – each had a tackle for loss.

As he has for a few weeks, Brown has a big lead in tackles for Kilgore with 113, two for loss, two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Kenney leads the team in tackles for loss (12), and Trey Williams is second (seven).

Blanton leads the team with four sacks; Kenney leads in hurries (five). Adkins has five interceptions and McFarland has four.

Mike Wood is the Bulldogs’ head coach, in his 10th season.

Hear the game live on KDOK 105.3-FM, or on the station’s website, kdokradio.com. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m., as usual. Tickets are on sale all week at a discounted rate at the athletic department, in the transportation building on campus. Tickets are all regular price at the gate.

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