Just about everyone who follows Kilgore High School football got a bit of a swerve when the when-and-where was announced for the Bulldogs’ first playoff game.
Kilgore (7-3) will face Splendora (4-6) right here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, a special 7 p.m. kickoff instead of 7:30, on Friday night.
It’s the first playoff game where Kilgore has hosted an opponent since the Ragin’ Red hosted Terrell back in 2003.
Why is it at home, and not a neutral site?
Coaches negotiate with each other for neutral sites for playoff games, typically, not just in football, but in most Texas high school sports.
Kilgore, for example, often plays at Rose Stadium in Tyler, the stadium in Forney, Lufkin, or even New Caney.
But with Classes 5A and 6A having started their seasons later, due to COVID-19, fewer stadiums are available for playoff games – they’re still being used by their home teams for regular season contests.
So it’s Kilgore-Splendora in the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A Division I playoffs – winners move on to face either Yates or El Campo next week in the area, or second, round, and the losers go to the house until next season.
Coach Mike Wood’s Kilgore Bulldogs are 7-3 overall this year, after finishing up the regular season with a tight loss to Lindale, 47-40, last Friday night at home.
Until that point, the Bulldogs had won five straight.
The Ragin’ Red will try to pick itself up by the bootstraps and face a Splendora Wildcats team that had to claw and scratch just to get into the postseason.
Splendora competes in District 10-4A, Division I, which matches up with Kilgore’s 9-4A, DI across the board in the first round. Splendora shut out Little Cypress-Mauriceville last Friday, 30-0. But the Wildcats had lost three straight before that victory over LC-M.
The Wildcats’ bread-and-butter on offense is the running game.
They’ve collectively ran for 2,354 yards and 24 touchdowns as a team, and junior running back Zane Obregon has the bulk of it: 1,619 yards and 14 touchdowns on 282 carries, through 10 games played.
Their quarterback is a sophomore, Harrison Facundo, or at least he’s played in all 10 games. Facundo is 59-of-131, for 733 yards, seven touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
On the receiving end of those passes are Colby Frazier (18 catches, 367 yards, five touchdowns), and senior Jagger Kennedy (17 catches, 191 yards, two touchdowns), among others. In all, 10 different receivers have caught passes for Splendora this year, including Obregon.
Their kicker is Kevin Luna. He’s hit 27 of 29 extra points and 7 of 9 field goals, a long of 37 yards.
A host of players have punted this year for Splendora, including the quarterback, Facundo, and Luna. The player with the most punts is Kennedy, and he’s averaging 37.4 per punt.
Defensively, senior linebacker Andrew Vazquez leads the Wildcats in total tackles (30). Splendora has quite a few sacks this year (17, with senior Brian Harris leading (three).
The sacks aren’t translating to turnovers for the Wildcats, though – they have seven, total, all season: one interception (by Nick Johnson) and six fumble recoveries by six different players.
Kilgore has played well, for the most part, all season, even in defeat, and that was the case again in last Friday’s loss at home to Lindale.
The Bulldogs couldn’t hardly shut down Baylor commit Jordan Jenkins, who had 291 yards rushing and six touchdowns, but did do a fairly good job slowing the rest of the offense.
Still, Kilgore came up short.
Running back Tray Epps ran for 129 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, and quarterback Dalton McElyea had 65 yards rushing, but a good game from the pocket, as well. He completed 18-of-33 passes for 309 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Donovan Adkins had four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns, and blocked two extra points, the last of which would have allowed Kilgore to tie the game late, but that wasn’t meant to be.
Epps had five for 85 yards. Brian Brown had four for 43 yards, and a leaping touchdown catch. Jermaine Roney had two catches for 61 yards, and the first-half score.
Cade Pippen had two catches for 31 yards and Corey Rider a late-game catch for 19.
Kicker Chris Baldazo was 5-for-5 in extra point attempts, and hit his only field goal attempt of the game, a 32-yarder in the first half. Pippen only punted three times, averaging 35 yards a punt, a long of 39.
The Bulldogs finished with 503 yards of total offense.
Defensively for Kilgore, Eli Caruthers finished with 15 tackles, 10 of them solo; Adkins had 10 tackles, eight solo, and the two blocked extra points; Davin Rider had nine tackles, none more impressive than one where he ran down Jenkins to prevent a touchdown; Brown had eight; Chris Ervin had six; Hunter Lewis, Alex Chavez, and Marcaelin Caraway each had five, Caraway one for loss; and Brantley Propes had five as well and one pressure that forced Lindale quarterback Sam Peterson into a mistake.