Former Carthage and Kilgore Players Reflect on the Old Rivalry
We caught up with some names you Carthage and Kilgore football fans may recognize and asked them about the old days of the Carthage vs. Kilgore rivalry.
Friday's 12 p.m. Class 3A Division I state championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington is the 49th meeting between the programs. Kilgore holds a 27-21 all-time series lead, but Carthage won 29-17 in the 2009 season opener, which is the last time these teams met.
Past Players Reflect on the Carthage vs. Kilgore Rivalry
In the fall of 1991, we played our last district game in Kilgore. The cold rain was relentless. The field was extremely muddy, barely could see the yard lines at midfield.
Carthage was going for a perfect regular season, 10-0, before heading into the playoffs. It seemingly was not a huge game in the grand scheme of things, but it was a night that changed my life forever. I ended my football career that night ... blowing out my right knee returning a kickoff to open the second half.
We went on to play in Texas Stadium three straight weeks, then in the final in the Astrodome (in a 4A state championship loss to A&M Consolidated). I was relegated to the sideline in crutches.
So for me, 22 seasons later, Friday is a little more than a state championship game. If Carthage wins, I may not get a ring, but my 40-year-old right knee sure will feel a lot better.
- -- Brandon Milam, Tatum Middle School principal and former Carthage linebacker, class of 1992
I was a junior in 1994 playing tight end. That was the year Johnnie Balous was a senior. We had a pretty good team that year.
Kilgore played us in Carthage and there as a lot of talk that they were going to shut down our run game. Kilgore always had a good, physical defense. During the game Kilgore was slanting a lot to the strong side of our offensive line where we were running Balous most of the time. We decided to run a play -- pro right fire left -- that was a power off-tackle play the weak side of our offensive line. My job on the play was to get around the defensive end as fast as possible to go block the safety to give Balous a chance for a big play.
The safety for Kilgore was Ronnie Nicks. He was a junior and was heavily recruited and ended up going to Notre Dame. As I rounded the defensive end to go block Nicks, who was playing about 10-12 yards off the ball, he was already in the hole. When he hit Balous, it sounded like two freight trains hitting each other. Both of them fell back and neither one of them won the battle. Nicks was the only player that I ever saw stop Balous that way.
After the series was over (head coach) Sleepy (Reynolds) asked me why I didn't block Nicks. I informed him that I was not going to be able to block him on that play out of that formation.
- -- Dustin Burns, lease operator at Devon Energy and former Carthage tight end, class of 1996
Well, it was intense. Things were so different back then … kids these days with the social media, we didn't ever go anywhere. We had big rivalries with them in football, basketball and baseball. And both schools were good at all three of them.
I remember my senior year, we went down there and Kilgore did not have the program that they've had over the last 20 years or so. But they beat us and knocked us out of winning the district, which we were leading at the time. That was real a big loss.
I probably know more about the rivalry through my times as a coach, having coached at Henderson. The rivalry between Kilgore-Carthage, Carthage-Henderson and Kilgore-Henderson, it's a trilogy there. It's really something for them to have the regions set up to where they could meet in the state finals.
- -- Dennis Alexander, Troup head coach (previously head coach at Daingerfield, Henderson, and Harleton) and former Kilgore quarterback, class of 1966
They were big, that's what I member the most … them being one of the biggest teams in the district. It was always a tough game for us offensively because they always had a great defense.
But it just so happens, my junior year, I had one of my best games at Kilgore. I had 258 yards rushing and two touchdowns. It was the first district game I think. I had a big game, but we still only won 21-20.
My senior year, that was a battle. We won the game with a field goal, I think 24-21. That's kinda when (Carthage running back legend) Kris Briggs came onto the scene for them.
- -- Ja'Mar Toombs, former Kilgore and Texas A&M running back, Kilgore class of 1998.
When we were playing Kilgore, it was a big deal. They were a really good team in the district and we were, too. There were three teams you had to take serious: Carthage, Henderson, and Kilgore. That pretty much was it. The unique thing about Kilgore was they had Ja'Mar Toombs. He started out in Pine Tree and got his name there. When he got to Kilgore he was big name in the district.
For me, on a personal note, that was one of those defining games that I had to show everybody that I was the real deal. I'm going against this guy that's got scholarship offers from everybody. He's 240 pounds and moves the way he moves. For me it was a huge game. I knew I had to bring it because if I didn't, I was gonna let my team down.
I remember Rodney Gates doing one of the best hits I've ever seen. He had a one-on-one hit against Ja'Mar and put him on his back.
As big a rivalry as it's been, I don't think you can get any bigger than Kilgore and Carthage playing in the state championship, especially with as good as they both are now.
- -- Kris Briggs, former Carthage and SMU running back, class of 1999
We were fortunate to have a lot of success, but a bunch of them came down to the wire. You always knew it was going to be a great game. We always talked as a staff, we'd go back and look at the teams we played after the season and tried to pick the best one. Most years, the staff was pretty agreeable that Carthage was the best team we played that year.
Sleepy Reynolds was there back then and those teams were always well-coached. And in the last few years, Scott Surratt's come in and they're still fielding a very talented football team.
I remember one of the years there was a fourth-down penalty that allowed us to get 10 more yards and move into field-goal range, and we kicked a field goal at the end to win it. That's just what you came to expect when Kilgore and Carthage played each other.
- -- Mike Vallery, former Kilgore head coach, 1995-2009.
It was always a physical game. There were always hard hits. I don't know if I would call it a rivalry, but more of a respect thing. It wasn't one of those games where we called it a rivalry game, because during those days our big rival was Henderson. But we definitely took a business-like approach to it, and it was a mutual respect kind of deal.
- -- Rafe Mata, Kilgore offensive coordinator, former Kilgore quarterback, class of 1997.
Kilgore was always a game nobody wanted to miss. Not only were they rivals, you were guaranteed smashmouth football and there was always a good dogfight.
- -- Jamon Edwards, former Carthage running back, class of 2004
Through every year of football (7th grade-12th) Carthage was always a big game for us. Reason, well several.
1) District game
2) The battle of Red and White Bulldogs. Who was going to be the best. Al lot of the years it was either way. They would win a few, Kilgore would. Good hard-nosed football, East Texas style. Awesome!!!
3) Playoff possibilities. Many times whomever won "The Game," would represent the district in the playoffs. Eat or be eaten..... True Football
After graduation from high school I played college football with some Carthage men. Several times the games were brought up and bragged about.
After college graduation I came back to Kilgore to coach for 14 years. Most of them, we played Carthage. They were also known in some sports circles as Tailback U. So, so many years they had a stud toting the pill. We had some too, but it seemed year in and year out for them.
- -- Roger Adams, Union Grove head coach, former Kilgore running back/linebacker, class of 1977.
Carthage vs. Kilgore has been a district battle for years. Kilgore held the upper hands in wins to losses, but Carthage of the new era has experienced great success in the playoffs with three state championships in the past five years, which has put Carthage on a whole different level when it comes to greatness. On Friday at 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, it will be a great battle of Dawgs vs. Dogs.
- -- Damon Roberts, Carthage assistant coach and former Carthage defensive lineman, class of 1998