JASPER – High-scoring wins? Check. Low-scoring wins? Check. Smashmouth defense? Balanced offense?
Second and 26? A tight finish, but a win over Huffman-Hargrave?
Check, check, check – and check.
And don’t forget surviving a late Hargrave comeback that included two onside kick attempts.
Kilgore flexed its muscles in two playoff games before Friday night’s game here at Jasper ISD Bulldog Stadium, and in this wet-and-soggy playoff game against Huffman-Hargrave, it was a battle, but ultimately a 20-17 Kilgore win.
And it took every second.
That means the Ragin’ Red advances to the fourth round of the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Class 4A, Division I playoffs, where they’ll face Lindale – their District 9-4A-DI rival – on Friday at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Lindale got past Kilgore, 47-40, here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium in the final game of the regular season, what amounted to a 9-4A championship game. Both teams were unbeaten in district at the time.
Kilgore then ran over Splendora, upended El Campo in a game that many had made El Campo the favorite to win, and then held off a late charge by Hargrave to get to this point.
Lindale beat Vidor by two touchdowns, played a game of basketball on grass in a 70-56 win over Needville, and then spanked another district rival, Chapel Hill, to punch their ticket for a rematch with Kilgore.
Friday's game at SFA will be the first game for the Kilgore Bulldogs on the Homer Bryce Stadium turf since November 20, 2004, the second game of Kilgore's legendary '04 state title season. It was a 41-0 win over Port Neches Grove, but not nearly that easy. A severe thunderstorm camped over Homer Bryce Stadium for hours. The game didn't kick off until well into the night, and was played in heavy rain, water standing on most of the field.
Kilgore whipped PN-G and advanced on into the playoffs, finally beating Dallas Lincoln in double overtime for a 16-0 unbeaten season.
To get the rematch with Lindale, Kilgore had to go through Hargrave, and the Falcons actually held tough, very tough, especially compared to the 2015 meeting between these two, where the Bulldogs scored over 60 points.
Leading 13-2 in the third quarter, Kilgore quarterback Dalton McElyea was picked off in the end zone, leading to a Hargrave march looking to get within at least a single score.
But with 2:19 left in the third quarter and Hargrave needing 3 yards on fourth down at Kilgore’s 21-yard-line, Hargrave quarterback Luke Thomas ran into a red wall, as Kilgore’s defense held him for no gain and forced the turnover on downs.
The Falcons (10-2) recovered, and wouldn’t stay down until Kilgore landed the knockout blow late.
Kilgore’s offense took over and even converting on a second-and-26: an 18-yard pass from McElyea to Brian Brown, and then a 13-yard run by the quarterback for the rest.
That proved to be the dagger. Kilgore running back Tray Epps reeled off three straight runs totaling 17 yards, and ultimately what looked to be the back-breaker, an 11-yard touchdown run with 6:59 left. Chris Baldazo’s extra point gave the ‘Dogs a 20-2 lead, and that looked to be it.
Hargrave said, ‘no.’
Thomas lifted his team with his legs on a big run deep into Kilgore territory, and then with his arms to Isaiah Aiken for a 15-yard touchdown, then a two-point conversion. Still, that got the Falcons within just 10, with 4:24 left.
The onside kick came as expected, and it looked like Hargrave got it on the bounce, but the ball came out, and ended up in the hands of Kilgore, in the scrum.
Kilgore (10-3) was able to run some clock off, but Hargrave did get the ball back, with 2:44 remaining.
What ensued felt like 45 minutes to play that 2:44: back-to-back pass interference calls on the Bulldogs gave Hargrave the ball at its own 40. Another pass got Hargrave to Kilgore’s 34, but with just 1:36 left.
The very next play: a 36-yard touchdown pass.
Another onside kick, and more drama: Huffman was flagged for offsides, and the kick had to be replayed. But the drama was soon squelched: Huffman barely made contact with the ball and it actually bounced a yard back from where the kick was made, KHS ball at the Hargrave 34.
The Ragin’ Red took over with 1:30 left, and Hargrave with a time out. Kilgore was penalized 5 yards on a delay of game, but three straight runs by Tray Epps did the trick, and killed the clock for the Kilgore victory.
The game was strange from the start. The teams traded a possession each in the first quarter, and then the crowd got a baseball score – 6-2.
Kilgore punter Cade Pippen and the special teams pinned Hargrave back at their own 1-yard-line, and then forced a punt of their own. The Bulldogs got the ball at midfield, taking 10 plays to go the 55 yards, a good balanced offensive attack that included a 9-yard pass to Donovan Adkins to convert on third-and-3.
McElyea and Epps each helped the Bulldogs grind it out, Epps an 11-yard run to the Hargrave 5, and then McElyea a 5-yard touchdown run two plays later. But the extra point was blocked, and returned the distance for Hargrave, leaving Kilgore up 6-2, with 3:02 left in the first quarter.
Kilgore linebacker Eli Caruthers chased down Hargrave quarterback Luke Thomas on a long third-down play to force another punt, and that continued – until Hargrave put together a nice drive in the early portion of the second quarter, finally breaking that 50-yard-line barrier and into Kilgore territory.
Thomas made a couple of clutch throws to Dallas McNeal and to Tyler Wilkins, but it finally stalled – with help from Kilgore’s defense – at the Kilgore 16. Thomas tried to roll out and scramble for yards on the third-and-11, but nothing doing, as he was gang-tackled on his own sideline for no gain. On fourth down, Thomas went for the money, a pass into the end zone. But Kilgore’s Dalton Smith was there to partially deflect it from Gunnar Gates, and the Bulldogs got the turnover on downs.
Kilgore’s next drive stalled, as well, at midfield, but then the Ragin’ Red got a break: the ball, possibly wet from the constant mist, slipped out deep in Hargrave territory, and Kilgore’s Davarian Franklin fell on it.
A holding call moved the ‘Dogs back a bit, but McElyea got it right back: a 15-yard pass to Jermaine Roney and a short pass to Adkins got Kilgore to the 10, for a third-and-3. The next pass was a score: Matthew Tyeskie caught the ball at the first-down marker, but got free through the middle and was tackled backwards into the end zone, with 1:03 left in the half. Baldazo was good on the extra point, and – after Chris Ervin made a great open-field tackle on the kickoff return – Thomas let a snap scoot through his fingers for a 14-yard loss.
Kilgore took a 13-2 lead into the half.
For the Bulldogs defensively, Eli Caruthers and Brian Brown each had 12 tackles. Kaden Kenney and Brantley Propes each had eight. Propes had two quarterback hurries, Kenney, one.
Hunter Lewis had two tackles and a forced fumble. Macaelyn Caraway had six tackles. Daverion Franklin and Dalton Smith each had a pass break-up; Franklin also had a fumble recovery.
Kilgore's defense held the Falcons to 132 rushing yards and 281 total yards.
Offensively, Kilgore got 121 yards and the late score from Epps. McElyea had the first touchdown of the game on the 5-yard run and finished with 25 yards rushing.
In the passing game, McElyea was 12-of-16 for 112 yards, the touchdown to Tyeskie and the interception in the first half.
Six different receivers caught passes. Roney had four catches for 27 yards; Brown and Epps each had two: Brown for 33 yards and Epps for 15. Adkins also had two, for 11 yards. Pippen and Tyeskie each had one: Pippen for 16 yards and Tyeskie, the 10-yard touchdown.
Baldazo hit two of the three extra points he kicked, and didn't attempt a field goal. Pippen punted four times, an average of just over 43 yards a kick.