One might say District 9-4A, Division I has performed well — very well — in the UIL Class 4A playoffs.
One would be right.
Kilgore, Lindale and Chapel Hill are all still playing in this, 4A’s third-round weekend. In fact, Lindale and Chapel Hill are playing each other, at Rose Stadium in Tyler.
Coach Mike Wood’s Kilgore Bulldogs overcame a serious challenge against El Campo last weekend, and should the Bulldogs win Friday, they would play the Lindale-Chapel Hill winner.
Kilgore (9-3) faces Huffman-Hargrave (10-1) this Friday night, a 7 p.m. start at Jasper’s Bulldog Field, appropriately enough. Kilgore and Hargrave have very little history, but they did meet in the first round in 2015. None of the current Hargrave players remember that meeting, and they probably wouldn’t want to: Kilgore won, 62-20.
This year, the Falcons have just one loss, and that was by one point to their eventual district champion, Livingston, whom Chapel Hill booted from the playoffs in the very first weekend. Hargrave has scored 283 points this year, averaging about 25 a game, and has allowed just 112, giving up an average of about 11 a game.
Interestingly enough, the Falcons are 5-0 in true road games this year, and 4-0 on neutral sites, like this weekend’s game in Jasper. Kilgore is also undefeated on the road and in neutral sites this year: the Bulldogs’ three losses were all at home — the season opener vs. Carthage, homecoming against Gladewater; and the final regular season game, a loss to Lindale.
Kilgore and Huffman-Hargrave have had two common opponents this year: Palestine, which was in Kilgore’s district, and Splendora, which was in Hargrave’s. Kilgore blasted Palestine, 49-28, and whipped Splendora in the first round two weeks ago, 42-0.
Hargrave beat Splendora, 22-7, in the regular season, and then held off Palestine, 19-10, in the first playoff game. That was a revenge game from a year ago, in which Palestine had ended Hargrave’s season.
A little bit of background: Huffman is in northeast Harris County and is an unincorporated community in the Baytown area of Houston. Huffman was founded in the late 1800’s when David Huffman came to Texas from Louisiana to join the fight against Mexico, and was paid $24 and given 324 acres for his services.
Huffman is listed as having a population of 12,000, roughly a similar size to Kilgore. Huffman is about 25 miles from Houston.
Maybe in part because of El Campo’s dominating, bruising running game, or maybe because of the Ricebirds’ 9-1 record before last Friday, many didn’t give Kilgore a good chance of knocking El Campo.
None of those people were in the Kilgore locker room.
Kilgore jumped out to an early lead, played at a high level the entire game, made fewer mistakes than the Ricebirds and kept that vaunted running game in check. Mix in a little bit of kicker Chris Baldazo and you have a 27-14 Kilgore win. Bye, El Campo.
Defensively, Kilgore allowed El Campo — who ran for over 2,800 yards and 40 touchdowns this year — to just 150 rushing yards, and 93 yards of that 150 came on a touchdown by Rueben Owens in the first half. El Campo finished with 376 total yards.
For Kilgore, Brantley Propes had a quarterback sack, four tackles and a fumble recovery. Davin Rider had 11 tackles. Eli Caruthers and Kaden Kenney each had six; Kenney and Hunter Lewis, and Jordan Owens each had two quarterback hurries. Kilgore had two interceptions as well.
Offensively, running back Tray Epps finished with 113 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Kilgore quarterback Dalton McElyea had five carries for 35 yards. Baldazo was 3-for-3 on extra point attempts and had two field goals within seconds of each other in the fourth quarter: a 40-yarder, then after a Kilgore recovery of an El Campo fumble, a 30-yarder that sealed the win. Cade Pippen only had to punt once, and it was a 48-yarder.
In the passing game, McElyea finished 19-of-25 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the first half. Pippen had five catches for 56 yards, a couple of key third down conversions and a touchdown; Matthew Tyeskie had four catches for 27 yards; Donovan Adkins had three for 23 yards and a touchdown on the game’s opening series; Jermaine Roney had three for 28 yards; Brian Brown had one for 25 yards; Rider had one for 8; Jacobe Weick had one for 6; and Epps had a catch at the line of scrimmage that was ruled no gain.
On the season, Kilgore’s offensive line — Cayden Croley, Josh Kennel, Devin Coleman, Francisco Morales and Christian Estrella and others — have helped the Ragin’ Red to 4,451 yards, and pretty balanced: 2,191 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns, led by Epps’s 1,719 yards and 22 scores, on 203 carries. Epps is averaging 8.5 yards a carry this season.
McElyea has the best numbers of anyone since Cooper Coldiron roamed the backfield in the 2012 season. McElyea, a senior, has 2,203 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions and is completing 64 percent of his passes (150-of-228).
Twelve different receivers have caught passes from McElyea this year: Roney (32 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns), Adkins (31 catches for 582 yards and 10 touchdowns), Pippen (25 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns), Brown (18 for 323 and two scores), Epps (17 for 280, and two touchdowns), Corey Rider (10 catches, 87 yards), Tyeskie (nine for 156 yards), Thomas Hattaway (three for 30), Dadrian Franklin (three for 22), Weick (three for 33), Omarion Smith (two for 13, and a touchdown) and Caruthers (one, for a 12-yard touchdown).
Pippen has punted 27 times this year, for an average of 37 yards per kick. And Baldazo has had a very good year. He hasn’t been called upon to kick many field goals, but he’s 7-of-10, a long of 43, and has missed just one extra point — he’s 56-of-57.
Both Adkins and Roney are dangerous in the return game, whether it’s punt returns or kick returns.
Defensively, the ‘Dogs, over 12 games played, have allowed 1,534 rushing yards — that’s 127 a game by the opponents. They’ve allowed an average of 212 total yards per game, and that’s fantastic by just about any standard. In 97 opponents’ possessions, they’ve forced 31 three-and-outs, another impressive number. That means on 30 percent of the time the opponents have the ball, Kilgore is sending them to their sideline after just three downs.