LONGVIEW – Kilgore-Henderson football games always seem to come down to the final moments, maybe even the last play of the game.
Rarely has one ever gone from such a high to such a low, a near-certain win to a loss.
The Bulldogs ended their 2017 season on Friday in spectacular fashion, but sadly, not with a win. Henderson quarterback Trae Hall scored with nine seconds left on the clock to nudge the Lions past Kilgore, 20-14, and on to the fourth round of the UIL Class 4A, Division I playoffs.
Henderson advances to play Carthage, a 64-36 winner over Silsbee on Friday, while Kilgore finishes its season with a 9-4 record, and its farthest trip into the postseason since 2013.
It was only the second playoff game ever between the two archrivals, separated by 17 miles of Highway 259, and it lived up to the billing.
Kilgore, trailing 13-7 for much of the game, produced fireworks in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs took possession with 3:43 left, and on second and long, quarterback Patrick Jackson heaved a pass downfield to Deiontrae Wheat, and the ball bounced off the turf. But Henderson was flagged for pass interference, setting Kilgore up with a first down at the Lions’ 47-yard-line. On the very next play, Jackson hit Wheat across the middle for an acrobatic catch that the receiver hauled in at the 11.
Kilgore couldn’t punch the ball in on three previous tries, and were faced with a fourth-and-6 at the Henderson 7 – Kilgore could get the first down, at the 1.
And that’s exactly what the ‘Dogs did. Jackson tossed the ball to offensive lineman McKinnon White, an eligible receiver on the play, and White easily made the catch and bulled his way to the Lions’ 1, finally pulled down before he could get into the end zone.
But Kilgore scored on the next play, a 1-yard burst up the middle by Ja’Vorie Hamilton, with 1:12 left in the game.
Neither team had any time outs left, and Henderson had to drive 75 yards after the touchback.
But Hall completed a pass to Tyrek Blanton that Blanton took down Kilgore’s sideline to the Bulldogs’ 42 before he was brought down.
That was the spark the Lions needed, and they converted another first down – Hall to Blanton on a fourth-and 5 – to keep the drive alive. Finally, after spiking the ball with 17 seconds left, on a second-and 10 at Kilgore’s 9, Hall got free and ran to his left, getting just inside the pylon for the score.
Kilgore would get one play after the kickoff, but running back Briant Mumphrey couldn’t get out of bounds downfield, and the clock expired.
It was Henderson’s fifth win over Kilgore in the last 18 games, and it happened in front of literally a standing-room-only crowd – there were even dozens of people standing on the hills in the corner of the end zone on the home side.
The teams had a typical Kilgore-Henderson slugfest in the first half.
Hall and the Lions got on the scoreboard with a 75-yard, eight-play drive to start things, eating up about five minutes of clock in the process.
Hall would cap the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, but the biggest play was a third-and-1 at midfield. Hall got loose and wound his way down to Kilgore’s 8-yard-line, caught by Kilgore’s Damien Parker before scoring. He would score three plays later.
The extra point became an adventure. Henderson kicker Alex Romero was stopped on his point-after try, a false start on the Lions. On the re-kick, the ball hit the uprights, but Kilgore was flagged for offsides.
Henderson lined up to kick again, and again moved, another 5-yard penalty.
When the Lions finally got to kick it, it was blocked, apparently by Isaiah Smith, who recovered the ball and returned it the length of the field, but was ruled down. Henderson led, 6-0, with 7:43 left.
The Bulldogs’ first possession ended with a punt, and then Kilgore’s defense held the Lions to a punt on their next drive, a pooch-punt by Hall that left Kilgore at its own 11.
Jackson and the offensive line, and Mumphrey and Hamilton, put together a nice drive, but it stalled at Henderson’s 11 when Hamilton was ruled to have come up just short on a fourth-and-2.
Henderson got its passing game going on its next drive, another 75-yarder. Hall connected with Treylun Blanton on a third-and 4 for a 56-yard gain, down to Kilgore’s 21, and on the next play, a completion to big back Miguel Ruiz – he bobbled it, but lumbered in for the touchdown. This time, Romero was good on the point after and gave Henderson a 13-0 lead with 6:24 left in the half.
Kilgore finally cut the lead in half, jumpstarted by Jaiden Zackery. Zackery took a pitch from Jackson for 16 yards, to midfield, and then picked up 18 on another run. Three consecutive runs by Jackson left Kilgore at the Henderson 9, and then Mumphrey took it in on the next play. Elivan Torres was good on the extra point and Henderson led, 13-7, with just over four minutes until the break.
The biggest play of the half might have been the one by KHS linebacker Sebastian Mumphrey at the end. Mumphrey stepped in front of Hall’s pass at Kilgore’s 20, and allowed Kilgore to get to the half down just 13-7.
For Kilgore, Wheat had two catches for 46 yards. Briant Mumphrey had 80 yards to pace Kilgore. Zackery had 63 yards, Jackson 37, and Hamilton had the touchdown run.
Hall finished with 115 yards rushing, and was 10-of-19 for 186 yards and the interception.
Of course, Kilgore lost in heartbreaking fashion, but it shouldn’t diminish what the senior class of 2018 accomplished: two district championships in three seasons, and a 5-3 playoff record.