The favorites – the top two of the four teams who host the two games – don’t always win, and then again, sometimes they win handily, and play each other in the SWJCFC title game, set this year for Nov. 9. But there’s always fireworks.
Kilgore College (8-1) is the conference’s top seed for the second straight season, and will host New Mexico Military (5-4) on Saturday at 3 p.m. The winner of that game will meet the winner of Trinity Valley-Navarro for the championship in that Nov. 9 game. If KC wins Saturday, that means the TVCC-Navarro winner will come here.
Of course, the two losers of this Saturday’s final four are out, their season over, in all likelihood.
KC coach Willie Gooden, in his first season, has no intentions for that to happen. The former Rangers walk-on and longtime assistant coach took the reins of the program last offseason, and guided the team to an 8-1 record. KC is 18-3 over two seasons, and won the SWJCFC championship last year, then followed that with a trip to the Heart of Texas Bowl – they won that, too, beating Pima (Ariz.).
KC is forced, somewhat, to look at the national picture. The Rangers are up to third in the NJCAA’s top 20. That means if one of the top two teams – either Mississippi Gulf Coast or Lackawanna (Penn.) – stumble, then the Rangers could be offered a shot at playing for the NJCAA championship.
Gulf Coast is 9-0 this season and faces longtime rival and national powerhouse East Mississippi in the Mississippi junior college conference playoffs on Saturday night. Lackawanna is 8-0, but has two games left, both at home: the New Jersey Warriors this Saturday afternoon, and against another national power, Georgia Military, also in Pennsylvania, on Sunday, Nov. 10.
The Rangers can only control what they can control, though, and that’s on the field Saturday against New Mexico Military. The regular season matchup between the two went KC’s way, a final of 35-26, back on Sept. 7 at Roswell, N.M. The Rangers had a couple of turnovers in that game, but never trailed, and are 4-0 all-time against NMMI.
The Broncos don’t exactly have a high-powered offense. They’re averaging 24 points a game – that’s the low average per game for the conference – and are only netting 280 total yards a game.
But they’re doing that to their opponents, too. They’re holding opponents to 137 rushing yards and 197 passing yards a game.
The Broncos have the dubious distinction, though, of having lost to all of the other three playoff teams.
In addition to that loss to KC, the Broncos lost in Athens to Trinity Valley (36-10) and at home to Navarro just two weeks ago (47-10). They bounced back with a pair of wins over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Blinn.
This is New Mexico Military’s first time in the SWJCFC’s four-team playoff since joining the conference in 2016.
For KC, on the other hand, it’s old hat. The Rangers are the winningest junior college football program in the history of Texas, and do it well – their offense is averaging 38 points and 489 yards a game, and yet their defense is strong, too, giving up just 119 rush yards and 197 passing yards a game.