The final moments of the 2021 season seemed to be a microcosm of the entire year, as Kilgore College fought valiantly at home Saturday afternoon against Tyler Junior College, scored late, scared the Apaches, but ultimately fell short.
Tyler Junior College held on for a 34-31 win Saturday here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, although the Rangers made it as frightening in the final two minutes as possible. It evened the overall series at 63 wins each, but more importantly for the Apaches and their fans, it ended a seven-game losing streak to their biggest rival that dated back to 2017, and punched their ticket to the Southwest Junior College Football Conference’s title game.
The Apaches will meet either Blinn or top-seeded New Mexico Military next Saturday in that championship. TJC is 6-4 on the season.
KC ends the season at 5-5, having beaten Tyler twice (in the first game of the regular season, then again in the last), and also having at one point earned a second-in-the-nation ranking. But a four-game winning streak just proved to be too much for the Rangers to overcome. They did have somewhat of a miracle finish to the regular season – seeded sixth in the conference and needing to get into fourth to even make the playoffs, KC topped Tyler, 31-21, last week, and got all the help it needed.
The Rangers vaulted up the standings and into the playoffs as the number two seed. But Tyler, who had not really been close to the Rangers in recent meetings until a week ago, was able to rise up and win Saturday, ending KC’s season.
Making things even more frustrating, for the second straight week, fans didn’t get to see the always-anticipated halftime show battle between the World Famous Kilgore College Rangerettes and the TJC Apache Belles. The Belles didn’t show. The Rangerettes did perform, though, to the enjoyment of the fans.
KC did almost make a complete comeback.
Trailing 24-17 late, quarterback Malcolm Mays found speedy receiver Willie McCoy, who outran everyone down the TJC sideline to the end zone, getting the Rangers within three points (27-24). TJC returned serve, though, almost immediately, reclaiming the 10-point lead (34-24).
Mays, as he had a tendency to do all season, came through again, hitting the reliable Zeek Freeman for a touchdown with 1:43 left, getting the Rangers within three again (34-31).
But after a failed onside kick, and with no time outs, TJC could run the clock out. Tempers flared somewhat, as TJC quarterback General Booty knelt, but officials stopped play briefly by throwing offsetting penalty flags with 56 seconds remaining. TJC ran out the remainder of the clock.
The hero of the day for the Apaches was running back Torrance Burgess, who finished with 12 carries for 176 yards and two scores, and also nine receptions for 122 yards. Booty went 22-of-35 for 280 yards and two touchdown passes.
Mays, who had several spectacular performances in his KC career, finished 13-of-28 for 349 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. McCoy caught seven of those balls for an eye-opening 233 yards and two of the touchdowns; Freeman caught the other.
KC finished with 505 total yards, but penalties marred the game somewhat: the teams were flagged a total of 28 times. Two of those penalties were super costly: one called back a 63-yard touchdown pass from Mays to McCoy in the first half, and another negated an 88-yard kick return by McCoy.
The loss shouldn’t overshadow what the Rangers have been able to do in recent seasons, having won the conference in 2018, finishing the regular season with the best record in 2019, and having only one conference loss in the (spring) 2020 season.