You can’t hand a gift to a team like the Kilgore Bulldogs and expect to survive.
And you surely can’t hand them two.
The Bulldogs (9-1) turned a pair of early turnovers into touchdowns on their way to a 42-7 win over the Athens Hornets Friday night in a Region II-3A Division I bi-district contest. Athens, in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under head coach Paul Essary, finishes the season 4-7. The Hornets had not been in the playoffs three times in a four year span since 1947-50.
The Hornets managed just one touchdown in the face of arguably the toughest defense they’ve faced this season. Kilgore entered the game having allowed 10 points or less in seven games this season, and no opponent had scored more than 14.
Athens avoided becoming the fourth team to fail to score a touchdown on Kilgore when junior quarterback Anthony Sanders hit junior K.J. Cumby in the end zone with 4:08 left in the game.
The Bulldogs scored on four of their five first-half possessions, missing a 28-yard field goal on their first drive of the game. Field position was the name of the game for the Bulldogs, who started drives on the Athens 40, the Athens 18, the Athens 32 and their own 26 in the first half. A 37-yard kickoff return by Benny Colbert set up their first score, which came on Kervin Justice’s 18-yard run at the 5:49 mark of the first quarter.
Athens’ ensuing drive ended when a Sanders pass was tipped near the Hornet 32, and seven plays later, Cornelius Bell’s one-yard scoring plunge made it 14-0. Sanders was picked off again to end a promising 13-play drive in the second quarter, and Nick Orange’s 51-yard touchdown catch from Cooper Coldiron pushed the Bulldog lead to 28-0.
One thing the Hornets were able to do was run the football – a skill that helped the team rebound from a 1-6 start to make the playoffs. Athens finished the night with 325 yards on the ground, running their rushing total over the past five games to 1,556 yards – or about 311 yards per game. Athens was 3-2 during that stretch.
A trio of juniors led the rushing attack for the Hornets. Raheem Miller juked and darted his way to 114 yards on 17 carries, Adam Stallings tallied a season-high 22 carries for 94 yards and Sanders finished with 73 yards on 11 carries. The Hornets will rely heavily on those young players next season, and should be even tougher with sophomore Devin Hall – who entered the game as the team’s leading rusher and saw his season end after an injury in the first half on a kickoff return.