There is a more famous blocked field goal return in Kilgore High School football history, but the one Friday night is the one being celebrated right now.
In the most exciting game of the season for Kilgore fans, the Bulldogs – four seconds away from going to overtime with Palestine here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium on Friday night – got a field goal attempt blocked by Jerrick “Deuce” Ervin, then Deiontrae Wheat scooped it up, taking it back 65 yards for the game-winning score to beat Palestine, 33-26.
Elivan Torres kicked a 44-yarder, then later a 40-yarder that tied the game to set up the final sequence.
That sends coach Mike Wood’s Ragin’ Red to the UIL Class 4A playoffs, back to the postseason for an eighth straight year, and for the 22nd time in the last 24 years.
They’ll visit Carthage in the regular-season finale for both teams next week. Palestine (2-7) ends its season against Chapel Hill.
Kilgore’s win was reminiscent of the Bulldogs’ 2004 state championship game win, where Nick Sanders picked up a blocked field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown to beat Dallas Lincoln in double overtime, and seal a 16-0, state title-winning season for the Ragin’ Red.
This was far from a state title, but it was important. A Kilgore loss would have meant having to beat Carthage next week to get into the postseason.
Most of the action in Friday’s game was in the second half. Kilgore scored two touchdowns in the first half, an 11-yard run by Kennieth Lacy and a 5-yarder by Ervin, and then Tony Guzman kicked a 21-yard field goal to send it to the half, 14-3.
Then, the real fireworks started.
Palestine got back into the game immediately in the second half, scoring on their first drive – a 1-yard run by Davis – and then coming up with a fumble on the kickoff. They got no points off that, just momentum, and Kilgore eventually forced the stop.
The Bulldogs fought back with a big series of their own, and, with the game still in the third quarter, extended their lead to 17-11 on a 44-yard field goal by Torres (who has missed only one time all season).
The Wildcats weren’t fazed. They drove down again, including a 26-yard throw from Christian Hutchinson to Marquis Davis that put them inside Kilgore’s 10-yard-line, and then scored on another run by Davis. They scored in five plays, taking just 2:22, and took a one-point lead, 18-17.
Palestine had a chance to make it a two-score game, but Davis, on the Wildcats’ next possession and at the Kilgore goal-line, fumbled the ball. Officials ruled it a touchback, and that Kilgore had possession.
The back-and-forth continued. Kilgore quarterback Gus Witt steadily guided the Bulldogs downfield behind the line of C.J. Brown, Cody Walls, Brayden Johnson, Josh Flores and Calvin Woodside, and completed a 28-yard pass to Wheat to midfield, converting a long third down.
KHS running back Kennieth Lacy broke free for a 38-yard gain and a horse-collar penalty tacked on a bit more, setting the Bulldogs up at Palestine’s 5-yard-line. He scored on the next play and put Kilgore back up, 23-18. The Bulldogs’ two-point conversion failed and left them in front by five.
Palestine went to work and grinded out a 70-play, 3:31 drive that ended in points – both defenses looked tired at this point. It was Davis again, his third touchdown of the night, on a 24-yard run. The conversion pass was good, and Palestine had the lead with 2:10 left in the game, 26-23.
Witt knew he had to move quickly, but he also had three time outs in his back pocket. He hit Wheat on a 9-yard pass, then a 4-yarder. Back-to-back incompletions stalled the Bulldogs a bit, but he connected with Lacy on an 11-yard pass, then his brother, Sam Witt, on a 4-yarder. On third and 7, it was a pass to A.J. Smith, but for no gain.
Wood sent Torres out to attempt a 40-yarder that would tie the game if he hit it. Torres, as he did earlier from 44, hit it out of the hold of Donovan Adkins without even a hesitation, and tied the game at 26.
Palestine had a chance to run out the remaining 44 seconds and go to overtime, but the Wildcats elected to go for the win. They did get to Kilgore’s 40, and lined up for what would have been the game-winner. Guzman missed it, but Kilgore was called for an offsides penalty, pushing it 5 yards closer.
And it was on the re-kick when Ervin blocked Guzman’s kick. Wheat wound up with it, and no one was going to catch him – he returned it the distance for the game-winner, and punched Kilgore’s playoff ticket.
The loss spoiled an unbelievable game from Palestine’s Davis, who ran for 281 yards and three scores, and caught three passes for 26 yards, in a fantastic effort. Hutchinson was 12-of-20 for 184 yards and an interception (in the first half by A.J. Smith). D’Maurius Sessions had a 45-yard catch as a part of that total, and Thompson had three for 57 yards.
For Kilgore, Witt went 11-of-20 for 132 yards. Wheat had five for 68 yards; Colby Powe had two for 46; Daniel Sifford had two for 15; Sam Witt had one catch for four yards; and Smith had the catch but for no gain.
Lacy finished with 65 yards on seven carries and the two touchdowns. Tray Epps had 56 yards on 16 carries. Witt had 50 yards on 15 carries, and Torres had the two long field goals, and was 3-for-3 in extra point attempts.
As for Carthage, their Bulldogs shut out Henderson Friday night, 34-0. Carthage, the defending 4A state champions, haven’t lost since losing to Kilgore back in October, 2016. They’ve won 35 straight games.
As mentioned, both of Kilgore’s subvarsity teams are still undefeated – the freshmen are 9-0, and so are the junior varsity.
Kilgore’s freshmen, coached by Robert Cooley, shut out Palestine, 41-0, Thursday night in Palestine. Angel Esparza scored on a pass from Thomas Donham, and on a 5-yard run, a sweep. Israel Vasquez scored on a 4-yard run. Corey Rider scored on a 35-yarder, and Devin Rider scored on a 20-yard interception return for a score, part of a great game by the defense.
Coach Jay Dean’s JV ‘Dogs also won big, 44-8. Defensively, Kilgore’s JV had a shutout – the lone Palestine score was a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Both KHS teams will host Carthage next Thursday night, starting with JV at 5 p.m., here at R.E. St. John.