WACO -- The 2018 football season wasn't perfect for the Kilgore College Rangers, but it darn near was.
The Rangers, who had won the Southwest Junior College Football Conference's regular season and playoff championships, finished the season in style Saturday afternoon, completely, totally thrashing the Pima (Arizona) Community College Aztecs, 28-0, in the 18th annual TIPS-CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl.
KC was ranked fourth in the nation in the NJCAA poll prior to the game, and Pima had been ranked 20th. The final poll will come out early this week.
The game was played in a venue near and dear to many Kilgore hearts: it was at Waco ISD Stadium, where Kilgore won the boys soccer state championship two seasons ago and where the KHS football program won two playoff games en route to the 4A Division I state championship back in 2004.
The contest wasn't even nearly as close as the final score indicated, although Pima pretty much controlled the ball in the second half. Kilgore College, which finished 10-2 on the season, won eight straight games, and Pima didn't put up much of a fight.
The win was Kilgore College's first bowl win since the 2007 Heart of Texas Bowl, back then played at Copperas Cove; that win came at the expense of Fort Scott (Kan.). KC put on a show on the field, and the KC band and the literally world-famous Rangerettes took care of the halftime entertainment in front of a good-sized Kilgore College-partial crowd.
The Rangers scored on a 3-yard run by quarterback Quez Allen in the first quarter, although the extra point was missed -- a very disruptive wind, that famous Waco wind, played havoc with the kicking games of both teams on and off throughout the contest. KC led 6-0.
Something that plagued KC opponents all season was Rangers' running back De'Montre Tuggle, and he did it again to Pima. He broke free in the first half for a 59-yard run, and right at Pima's goal line, the ball came out. Officials ruled it a fumble, but Tuggle's teammate, wide receiver Kevin Jones (formerly of West Rusk High School), was johnny-on-the-spot and fell on the ball for the score. That, and Jose Goite's extra point, gave KC a 13-0 advantage.
Pima starting quarterback Brooks Ringer was knocked from the game early (he would return) and gave way to back-up Marquise Cooper. But Cooper struggled, and stepped out of the back of the end zone after KC punter Fernando Serrano had a perfect punt that left Pima deep in its own territory. Officials ruled Cooper did step out before he got the pass away, and KC had a safety. The Rangers went to halftime with a 15-0 lead.
The defense, which scored in five straight games for the Rangers, absolutely smothered Pima all day long. Defensive lineman Kelton Moss wound up with the ball in his hands after an errant throw near KC's goal line, stopping a Pima drive just before halftime, and Kaleb Ford-Dement, Reshawn Parker, and Geovante Howard all each had interceptions (three by Ringer after his return to the game).
Jalan Harris knocked the ball free from Cooper, and KC linebacker Brian Holloway, who seemed to be everywhere the ball was for the entire season, fell on a loose ball in the end zone in the third quarter for a Rangers' touchdown (22-0).
Fittingly, it was another turnover that led to KC's final score. Ford-Dement grabbed his sixth interception of the season, returned it 25 yards, and handed it over to the Rangers' offense, led in the second half by quarterback Dakota Michaels. Carlos Frank scored on a 12-yard run, giving KC its final touchdown of the day.
In the end, KC wound up collecting six Pima turnovers and on offense, 234 rushing yards (130 by Tuggle).
It was the second meeting between KC and Pima; Pima beat KC back in the 2004 Pilgrim's Pride Bowl in Mount Pleasant, but the Rangers returned the favor with Saturday's win.
See more coverage in Wednesday's Kilgore News Herald sports section, with photos by Michael Hampton.