With the exception of last weekend, the Kilgore High School Bulldogs are looking very much – well, like the Kilgore High School Bulldogs of old.

Kilgore (3-1) has gotten off to a roaring start, having won three of its first four games, all against schools from the larger 5A classification. The ‘Dogs did lose at home to Texas High last weekend, having not played their best game, but still having an opportunity to win the game in the second half.

This Friday, Kilgore visits Pittsburg (1-3), a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The game can be heard live on KDOK 105.3-FM, or online at kdokradio.com, courtesy of the Ragin’ Red Broadcasting team. They’ve been calling Kilgore games since 1981.

Tickets are sold in advance at the school’s athletic office on campus – it’s in the transportation building in front of the gym.

This is Kilgore’s last non-district game. The Ragin’ Red will have an open date next Friday, Oct. 4, and then jump into the District 10-4A, Division I schedule, hosting Chapel Hill on Oct. 11.

But for now, the task at hand is taking on a talented Pittsburg team that’s better than its record, and one that beat Kilgore last year in the only meeting ever between the two programs in football.

The Pirates’ season got off to a rough start with a 49-7 loss to a Jefferson team that’s currently ranked number one in the new #bEast Texas poll of high school teams. Pittsburg went to Longview and faced Pine Tree, and came back to beat the Pirates, 42-30.

Since then, though, they’ve lost back-to-back games, a 31-16 loss to Tatum in Pittsburg, and a head-scratching 7-0 loss at Van a week ago.

Pittsburg’s offense might have been anemic – just 100 yards rushing in the game, and very little passing attempts at all – but the Pirates were impressive on defense.

It’s been a good season, for the most part, for Kilgore, as the Bulldogs have been good defensively and more balanced on offense than they have in years. Kilgore has 858 rushing yards and 554 passing, a threat to do either, and they have.

A good surprise for Kilgore has been the development of not only quarterback Dalton McElyea, but a group of receivers that have played very well. McElyea and many of his receivers are getting their first varsity playing time this year.

That wouldn’t be Donovan Adkins, though, who was on Kilgore’s varsity a year ago. But Adkins has been everywhere, it seems – interceptions and tackles on defense, the holder on kicks, and catching balls from McElyea, seven of them, to be exact, for 122 yards and three touchdowns.

Brian Brown leads the team with 13 catches for 166 yards, and has two touchdowns. DaVondrick Crowe has 11 catches for 75 yards, and Billy Bell, seven for 72 yards. Cade Pippen has four catches this season for 49 yards, and B.J. Owens has two for 62 yards and a touchdown. Owens also has a 42-yard kick return for a touchdown to his credit.

McElyea looks at the very least like a two-year starter, and has played only four varsity games. The junior has completed 49-of-81 passes for 554 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception, and has been rock-solid in doing so. He got people talking in his very first start, where he and Adkins connected on a 47-yard touchdown that was the go-ahead, and winning, score against Nacogdoches (helped a little later by Jayce McFarland’s clutch interception).

Then, the Bulldogs’ offense was spectacular in the two weeks that followed: a blowout of Hallsville and an explosion of points in a three-overtime, 64-62 win over Pine Tree – McElyea wowed the crowd with five touchdown passes in that game alone, and no interceptions.

Football purists would point out a quarterback is only as good as his offensive line, and fortunately, McElyea has a good one: Brayden Johnson, Josh Flores, Devin Coleman, C.J. Brown and Calvin Woodside have been the starters. And they’re opening holes for running backs like Kennieth Lacy and Trey Epps. Those two guys have had the bulk of Kilgore’s 118 carries.

As a team, the Bulldogs are averaging an outstanding 7.3 yards per run, and have scored 11 rushing touchdowns. Epps leads in yardage by a shade (he has 417 to Lacy’s 381), but Lacy leads in touchdowns by one (he has six, Epps has five).

Kilgore had to replace its special teams unit, and both Jose Jaime and Chris Baldazo have stepped up. Jaime is averaging 37.4 yards a punt, and Baldazo has been perfect on extra points (11-of-11), and has one field goal to his credit so far this year, in three attempts.

Last week, the defense had its hands full with a healthy Texas High running game. Still, Brian Brown would up with a team-high 14 tackles against the Tigers. McFarland had 12 tackles, one for loss, and a forced fumble. Sam Witt had 11, including three tackles for loss, and a quarterback hurry. Davin Rider and Kaden Kenney each had 10 tackles; Rider had one for loss, and Kenney had two for loss, a fumble recovery, and a sack.

The defensive picture as a whole is very good. The Bulldogs already have gotten eight turnovers (the offense has only committed four). Kilgore has five interceptions (McFarland has two, and Adkins, Brown and Dalton Smith each have one) and three fumble recoveries (Kaden Thrower, Kentravious Anderson and Brantley Propes each have one).

The Ragin’ Red also has six sacks: Kenney and Deundre Blanton each have two, and Propes and Anderson each have one.

Kilgore has 22 tackles for loss – Blanton and Trey Williams lead in that department, with four each; Kenney has three. The ‘Dogs have allowed 1,498 yards this season: 741 on the ground, 757 passing. In 45 opponents’ possessions, Kilgore has forced nine three-and-outs, meaning giving the ball back to the offense without allowing the opponent a first down on that drive.

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