NACOGDOCHES – There was no lightning, but there were a lot of fireworks.
The Kilgore Bulldogs officially opened the season in bombastic fashion here at Dragon Stadium Friday night, dealing old district rival Nacogdoches a 17-14 defeat with a spectacular finish.
Down 14-10 after Nac scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 left, Kilgore’s Brian Brown pulled off the first play of a three-punch knockout, a 48-yard return to midfield that got the Bulldogs’ offense within striking distance.
And the offense didn’t disappoint. Quarterback Dalton McElyea and receiver Donovan Adkins put their name in the Kilgore football lore immediately with a 47-yard connection – McElyea’s ball was hauled in by Adkins about 25 yards downfield and Adkins did the rest, outrunning everyone to the end zone for the go-ahead score. Chris Baldoza gave the Bulldogs the 17-14 lead.
But there was more to do. The Nac offense, led by very capable quarterback Jake Smith, got on the move, and Kilgore needed a game-changing play with under 20 seconds left and Nac driving.
They got it. Smith, trying to avoid pressure and keep the play alive as he had done a few times in the game, tried to force a ball down the middle of the field. And it was caught – by Kilgore’s Jayce McFarland, a diving catch that he secured for an interception, the game-winner.
The Ragin’ Red offense knelt out the final 15 seconds, and Kilgore is 1-0 for the 2019 season.
Coach Mike Wood’s Bulldogs will visit Hallsville next Friday, then host Pine Tree for the home opener on Sept. 13.
Kilgore went up in the third quarter after running most of the quarter clock off, a 24-yard field goal by Baldoza. Nac didn’t score again until that touchdown with less than a minute and a half left, a 12-yard run by Camarian Thacker.
All of those fireworks after a low-scoring first half. The half ended in a 7-all tie, and felt that way.
Nacogdoches struck first, with quarterback Jake Smith, who was under pressure by the Kilgore defense, dumped off a screen pass that teammate Jamarion Sanders snagged, then took down his own sideline for a 29-yard score. The extra point gave the Dragons an early 7-0 lead, with 9:37 left in the first quarter.
Kilgore’s first possession ended in a punt, nut the second ended in points, and started by an interception of Smith by defensive back Donovan Adkins. Adkins gave the Bulldogs the ball at their own 39-yard-line, and quarterback Dalton McElyea and the offensive line went on the march. Running back Trey Epps reeled off a couple of runs, and then McElyea found Brian Brown for a 7-yard gain, then again for 12.
Epps got the Bulldogs to the Nac 6-yard-line, and then Kennieth Lacy did the rest, putting the ball into the end zone behind that offensive line. Chris Baldoza tied the game with his extra point with 1:18 left in the first quarter.
The second quarter saw both teams get their opportunities, but no dice: Kilgore forced Nac into a fourth-and-22, and then before the half, the Bulldogs missed a 32-yard field goal.