KILGORE -- Playing defense isn't easy.

Not that offense is. But think of it this way: It's harder to chase, than to be chased.

Kilgore has turned that concept upside down.

A stifling defense has Kilgore on the brink of its second state championship appearance in school history. The Bulldogs (11-1) face Stephenville (11-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mansfield's Vernon Newsom Stadium in a Class 3A Division I state semifinal.

Their defense has played a major role in their success.

Kilgore allows 8.5 points per game and led East Texas in scoring defense the entire regular season. Eleven of Kilgore's 12 opponents have failed to score more than 14 points, and the only other -- Gilmer -- scored 20 points. The Bulldogs have held seven foes to single digits and allow only 216.3 total yards per game, including an especially impressive 97.2 passing yards per contest.

"I think we've all got good communication," said senior middle linebacker A.J. Davis. "We've bonded together. We just work as a team, focused every Friday, go out there and play strong."

Kilgore coach Mike Wood said Davis is the veteran leader of a defense that has physical, talented players at all three levels.

Kilgore's LaDarrin Anthony collects one of his three sacks during the Bulldogs' 27-14 win at Bullard on Oct. 5. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defensive tackle LaDarrin Anthony has assembled one of the best campaigns in East Texas among defensive linemen. The 6-foot, 230-poound junior has 99 tackles, 24 for loss, and 12 sacks, which ranks among the top five in the region. Fellow junior D.Q. Scott, who starts at end, has 7 1/2 sacks to make the class of 2014 duo one of the top pass-rushing tandems in East Texas. There's also senior end Cornelius "Spike" Bell and senior tackle Josh Daniels, who have combined for 5 1/2 more sacks.

"Footwork, communication, and coming of the ball," said Anthony of the keys to Kilgore's defensive line success.

Davis, an all-state player a year ago, leads Kilgore with 143 tackles, 12 for loss. Junior Jake Brantley (98 tackles, two interceptions) and sophomore Kris Haynes (82 tackles) man the outsides around Davis.

Wood said the rest of the defense feeds off Davis' leadership.

"He's a smart player and he's been a leader for us going on three years," Wood said. "He gets us lined up. He keeps our tempo out there on defense. He's kinda our quarterback out there and the kids kinda play around him."

Behind the front seven is a talented secondary, which is as strong as any of Kilgore's defensive sub-units. Junior Benny Colbert is one of East Texas' top cover men. Colbert has six interceptions and was the only cornerback this season to slow down Mount Pleasant junior standout K.D. Cannon, who finished with 104 catches, 1500-plus yards, and 25 touchdowns in 11 games.

Junior defensive back DeQuavian "Q" Brewster has five interceptions, while senior Hector Peralez gives the 'Dogs a veteran presence from his safety position. Peralez, who had seven interceptions during Kilgore's 2011 Class 4A Division II state quarterfinal run, has picked off three more passes this year.

Junior defensive back Joseph Shepherd has four interceptions to round out Kilgore's team total of 20. Kilgore has forced 31 turnovers in 12 games, or 2.6 per game.

"I want to thank the D-line for not giving the quarterback enough time to set his feet and give bad balls to receivers," Colbert said. "They don't really give the quarterback a lot of time to make his decisions and have him running around back there like a chicken with his head cut off."

 

"I want to thank the D-line for not giving the quarterback enough time to set his feet and give bad balls to receivers."

-- Kilgore cornerback Benny Colbert

 

Wood said the defensive line takes as much ownership of allowing passing yards as the linebackers and secondary.

"They believe anytime that a pass is completed it's as much our fault as it is those guys behind us," Wood said. "We may not get to the quarterback all the time, but we're gonna try to pressure him every time it's a passing down and try to affect the play. If we can do that then quarterbacks will make some bad decisions and try to force some balls in before they need to, and that allows us to break on those balls and get those interceptions."

It's not just the starters, either. Several reserves have helped Kilgore's defensive prowess, such as Kevrin Justice (51 tackles, nine for loss), Chad Bornes (41 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks), and Caleb Thomas (38 tackles, 2 sacks). Kilgore's 35 1/2 sacks give the Bulldogs almost three per game.

Kilgore has forced 53 three-and-outs in 122 defensive possessions for a strong "off-the-field" rate of 43.4 percent. The Bulldogs also surrender fewer than 10 first downs per game (9.6). Opponents have completed only 46.9 percent of their pass attempts and average a mediocre 3.1 yards per carry.

Perhaps the Bulldogs' most impressive defensive statistic is the average yards allowed per play: 3.967 yards.

The balance in ability across the entire defense is why the 'Dogs are so good against the run and the pass, Davis said.

"We've got good cornerbacks, good safeties," Davis said. "Then we've got a good front seven that works hard."

Kilgore's defense must work extra hard this week when it collides with a high-powered Stephenville offense averaging 44.8 points and 468.4 total yards. The Yellow Jackets have scored 56 or more points in six consecutive games, none of which they've won by fewer than 29 points.

Quarterback Tyler Jones has thrown for 3,257 yards, 37 touchdowns, and only four interceptions while rushing for 767 yards and 16 touchdowns. Witt Westbrook is a 1,000-yard rusher. Brice Gunter is an 1,100-yard receiver. Gunter and Jones are committed to Texas State.

Five Yellow Jackets have caught at least 22 passes, led by Gunter's 75 receptions, and six have scored at least six touchdowns.

"This team we're playing this week throws the ball so well, and the quarterback throws things on time," Wood said. "We're gonna have to disrupt that timing somehow and hopefully get some stops on them out there on the field."

Friday's game in Mansfield is probably the toughest challenge Kilgore's defense has seen this season.

If you ask Colbert, the Bulldogs are ready.

"We've got a physical defense," he said. "We've got speed, and we've got talent."

Kilgore's Chad Bornes forces a fumble during the Bulldogs' 41-0 home shutout of Spring Hill on Sept. 28. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)