MANSFIELD â€” Kilgore and Stephenville, with identical 11-1 records, meet in one of two Division I semifinal matchups Friday at Vernon Newsom Stadium.
The winner advances to the Division I championship game next week against the Carthage-El Campo winner at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
First things first, though. The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets are meeting for the first time in what should be a knockdown, drag out between a high-octane offense and a suffocating defense.
Stephenville is all about offense, averaging 44.8 points and 468.4 yards (189.8 rushing, 278.6 passing) per game. The Yellow Jackets have scored 48 or more points six times, averaging 57 in three playoff outings and 59 in a 31-point quarterfinal win against Abilene Wylie last week.
Meanwhile, Kilgoreâ€™s D is allowing just 8.5 points and 216.3 total yards (119.1 rushing, 97.2 passing) per contest. The Raginâ€™ Red has held seven teams to single digits, and three opponents to 14. In two of those 14-point concessions, the second touchdown came when the game was well in Kilgoreâ€™s favor.
Stephenville is in the semifinals for the first time since 2005 and the sixth time in school history. Kilgore is in the semifinals for the first time since winning the Class 4A state championship in 2004 and just the second time in school history.
One of the Yellow Jacketsâ€™ strengths is its offensive line in run blocking as well as pass protection for quarterback Tyler Jones, who has passed for 3,257 yards and 37 touchdowns, and rushed for 767 yards and 16 scores.
Jonesâ€™ favorite receiver is Brice Gunter, who like his quarterback is an early commit to Texas State University. Gunter has a team-leading 73 catches and over 1,000 yards with 15 touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets have three other receivers (RB Witt Westbrook, the leading rusher with 1,042 and 11 touchdowns, WR Jarrett Stidham, WR Alex Sanchez) with 30 or more catches for a combined 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Kilgoreâ€™s defense continues to play well, turning up the pressure last week in limiting then-unbeaten Gainesville to 73 yards rushing on 25 carries and 187 yards passing.
The Leopards went three-and-out for seven of their nine possessions.
A.J. Davis, an all-state middle linebacker last season, and defensive tackle LaDarrin Anthony, a junior, have anchored Kilgoreâ€™s defense. Both nothced 11 tackles last week. Gainesville quarterback Denzel Johnson was sacked six times. Anthony, who leads the Raginâ€™ Red with a dozen sacks for the season, had 2.5 against the Leopards. He also leads in the number of tackles for loss with 12. D.Q. Scott, a junior, who starts at end, follows with 7.5 sacks.
â€śOur defense got key stops when we needed them in the second half against Gainesville,â€ť said Kilgore coach Mike Wood about last weekâ€™s performance.
â€śWeâ€™ve got to certainly try to get some stops and take away what they do well to keep us in the ballgame.â€ť
He continued, â€śI think our kids are focused, know whatâ€™s expected and what we have to do to be successful. Weâ€™ve had a good week of practice.â€ť
Davis leads in tackles with 143. He also has 10 tackles for loss to go with two sacks. Meanwhile, the outside backers, Jake Brantley and sophomore Kris Haynes, have combined for 10 TFLs and three sacks.
The Kilgore defense has recovered 11 fumbles with DE Bell, cornerback Benny Colbert and Anthony with two each. The unit also has 20 interceptions with Colbert, the playmaker, leading with six followed by DaQuavian Brewster with five, Joseph Shepherd has four, safety Hector Peralez has three and Brantley two.
Shepherd and Peralez have interception returns for touchdowns.
If success comes the Bulldogsâ€™ way, it will include not only collecting more turnovers, but breaking Stephenvilleâ€™s offensive rhythm.