The Willie Gooden era of Kilgore College football started with a bang – in more ways than one.

After a lengthy lightning delay Saturday night here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, the Rangers brought the thunder, and a 14-0 lead over archrival Tyler Junior College quickly turned into a 35-10 win, Gooden’s first as head coach after being here as a player and as a longtime assistant.

KC (1-0) jumps right into the meat of its season next week with another home game, but this one counts in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference standings. It’s Navarro, coming in for a 7 p.m. kickoff this Saturday night.

The Rangers are the defending SWJCFC regular season and playoff champions, and haven’t lost a game at all since Sept. 18, 2018, now up to nine straight. They entered Saturday’s game against Tyler as the sixth-ranked team in the NJCAA’s preseason poll.

The highly-recruited Omar Manning got KC on the scoreboard first; Manning snagged a 34-yard pass from starting quarterback Jacob Frazier to light it up. Kicker Luis Reyes, who handled punting and kicking duties from deep snapper Braden Grush, booted the extra point. Reyes was solid all night, going 5-of-5. His first one gave the Rangers a 7-0 lead, well into the first quarter.

A second-quarter interception by Geovonte Howard was returned for a touchdown, but a penalty negated the score; still, the Rangers had the ball and made the most of it. Grandview’s Earnest Crownover, adding to the running attack by returning sophomore Scooter Adams, scored on a 31-yard run and Reyes’ point after gave the Rangers a 14-0 halftime advantage.

TJC wouldn’t let the game go without a fight, and quickly pulled within four in the third quarter. New coach Thomas Rocco called for an onside kick and got it, and then the Apaches turned that into points on a 12-yard run by quarterback Nate Overholt (who came off the bench). That, combined with a KC-fumble-turned-TJC-field-goal, got the Apaches within four, 14-10, with just over four minutes left in the game.

They’d get no closer. Frazier connected with Gabriel Douglass on a 31-yard touchdown pass less than a minute and a half later, and in the fourth quarter, Manning found another touchdown strike, another 31-yard pass.

KC added one more: a 4-yard touchdown run by former Texas High standout Cade Pierson, who relieved Frazier after Frazier gave a solid performance: he finished 15-of-21 for 279 yards and the three scores, two to Manning and the one to Douglas. Frazier completed passes to seven different receivers, and the running game produced, as well: Adams, Crownover and the cast rolled up 148 rushing yards behind a very good performance from the offensive line.

Manning, a highly-recruited former TCU receiver, finished with six catches for 180 yards and the two scores.

The rivals have played 123 times, normally twice a year – this one was the one that didn’t count in the conference standings. They’ll play again on Oct. 26, this time at Tyler’s Rose Stadium. TJC leads the series, but it’s close: KC is 59-63-2, and has won the last three meetings.

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