Kilgore defense leaving no way out

Kilgore College’s defense swarms on a Blinn ball-carrier during last weekend’s homecoming win. Two of the SWJCFC’s best defenses, KC and Tyler, play this Saturday at Rose Stadium. TJC is playing to get into the playoffs; KC is playing to clinch home field advantage throughout. (Photo by MICHAEL HAMPTON)

In spite of an early-season head-scratching loss to Cisco, the Kilgore College Rangers are exactly where they want to be: in the driver’s seat for a second straight Southwest Junior College Football Conference championship.

Only one opponent stands in the Rangers' way of finishing the regular season with the conference regular season title and home field for the playoffs – naturally, that opponent is Tyler Junior College.

KC (7-1 on the season, 5-1 in the conference), ranked fifth in the nation in the last two NJCAA top-20 polls, visits TJC (4-4 overall, 3-3 in conference play) this Saturday at 3 p.m. at Rose Stadium. 

The Rangers own the tiebreaker over second-place Trinity Valley, so the only real football drama in this game is if Tyler can get into the playoffs.

A story earlier today on kilgorenewsherald.com stated that the Rangers could lose the home field if they lost to Tyler and Trinity Valley won. That's incorrect, and not the case. The News Herald regrets the error, and is happy to set the record straight.

Only the top four get into the playoffs, and right now, that top four is KC, Trinity Valley, Cisco and Navarro.

TJC is currently fifth, and a win over KC and a Navarro loss would get Tyler in (Navarro holds the tiebreaker there due to beating TJC in September). A loss to KC and the Apaches are out.

So for coach Willie Gooden’s Rangers, the math is simple: finish up the regular season healthy, go in on a winning note, at the same time, deal TJC a season-ending loss.

That’s what the Rangers will try to do. But the Apaches have improved a good bit since losing that non-conference season opener here at R.E. St. John, a game that KC won convincingly, 35-10.

The Apaches have won three of their last four, including the last two games (26-20 over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, and 17-0 at Cisco last week). They’re holding opponents to the second-lowest scoring average in the conference (allowing just over 20 points a game; Trinity Valley allows a ridiculously-low 13 ½ points a game) – the Apaches held Cisco to just 57 rushing yards a week ago.

And TJC hasn’t lost a game this year at Rose Stadium. All of their losses have been on the road.

There is one thing of note, however, for Tyler: quarterback Colby Kizzee left the game with an apparent leg injury at Cisco. Nate Overholt and David Johnson combined to finish the game. Kizzee’s status for Saturday’s game against KC is still up in the air.

That’s not really too much of a game-changer. Johnson has seen the majority of snaps at QB this season, anyway, and is 92-of-164 for 1,271 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. The Apaches have ran for 1,480 yards and 16 scores this year, the bulk of those scores by Trenton Kennedy (six). Kennedy also leads the Apaches in rush yards (397, on 68 carries).

That defense gets after the quarterback. Four players have at least four sacks each, and linebacker Chris Sanders and defensive lineman Devere Levelston each have five. Tyler has 33 sacks this season, averaging just over four a game. Tyler’s defense has 16 takeaways this year: eight interceptions and eight fumbles. And Levelston also leads the team in tackles for loss (10 ½).

KC’s defense isn’t exactly chopped liver. The Rangers allow just a point more a game (21) than Tyler, and neither team lets opponents run: Tyler holds the opposition to 109 rush yards a game, KC to 120.

Linebackers Quinton Sharkey and Keith Harris still lead the team in tackles: Sharkey has 65, Harris, 61. Sedrick Williams and Kelton Moss are always after the quarterback; Williams has 5 ½ sacks this year, Harris, five, and Jadrian Taylor has 3 ½.

KC’s secondary is dangerous. Geovonte Howard, Antonio Brooks and Jabari James each have three interceptions (as a team, KC has 15) and if it comes down to a potential game-winning kick, the Apaches should take note: KC has blocked five kicks already this season.

The Rangers’ offense is scoring 38 points a game, and barring anything unforeseen, Jacob Frazier will start the game at quarterback. The sophomore has completed 120-of-164 passes for 2,036 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He’s rushed for 317 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns on 57 carries.

Earnest Crownover, a freshman, leads the team with just a bit more yards (351, on 47 carries) and several other players are in the mix in the backfield: Scooter Adams, Chauncey Martin, and Melek Hamilton. As an offensive unit this year, the Rangers have scored 21 touchdowns and average 6.6 yards a carry.

The receivers are as talented as just about any group KC has had in years. Omar Manning leads the team in catches (35), for 727 yards and six touchdowns. Gabe Douglas has 25 catches for 430 yards, and five touchdowns.

Kevon Latulas and Da’Shawn Williams are three-four, combining for six scores, and Adams, out of the backfield, has two touchdowns, as well.

If the standings hold true and KC beats TJC, the Rangers will host Navarro next Saturday. If TJC upsets KC, the Rangers will still be at home, as the number two seed (behind Trinity Valley), and they would likely host Cisco.

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