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Gilmer’s Solid Offensive Front Faces Strong Kilgore Defensive Line in Friday’s “District of Doom” Championship

Kilgore’s LaDarrin Anthony (96) and A.J. Davis (44) tackle Bullard’s Houston Alexander during the Bulldogs’ 27-14 win in October. Anthony and the Dogs’ defensive line face a solid Gilmer offensive line in Friday’s “District of Doom” championship game. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

When writing game previews, ETSN.fm often asks coaches what the key matchup is in a contest. The overwhelming response? Line play.

That’s once again the case Friday at Buckeye Stadium, when Gilmer (8-1, 4-0) hosts No. 4 Kilgore (8-0, 4-0) in the District 16-3A championship game.

Gilmer’s offensive line has helped the Buckeyes’ win seven consecutive games and average 37.2 points per game. Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor credits a unit that has played larger than its stature.

“This is probably the most undersized line that I’ve had,” Traylor said, who is in his 12th season at his alma mater. “They’re seniors who are dedicated to the program. They’re great program kids.”

Senior center Dillon Sampson, senior right guard Brady English, junior left guard Dylan Adkinson, junior right tackle Mitch Lange, and senior left tackle Jackson McQueen start on the Gilmer offensive line. Senior Justin Vestal and junior Blake Rice rotate in at the guard spots.

That starting five averages about 215 pounds per player and faces a four-man Kilgore starting defensive line averaging more than 240 pounds per player, including 295-pound senior tackle Josh Daniels.

“Almost every offensive line in Texas might be as big as those kids,” Traylor said of his O-line. “But they’re very intelligent, high character, physically tough kids. They know they’re outmanned going into almost every ball game.”

That hasn’t affected Gilmer’s production. Despite the common misconception that Gilmer is a pass-first team, Traylor said he tries to be 65-35 run-pass play selection and 50-50 run-pass yardage production, and he’s gotten close to that with a cast of almost all underclassmen skill players. Gilmer averages 237.7 rushing yards and 193.2 passing yards, or approximately 55 percent run, 45 percent pass in its 430.9 total yards per game.

Kilgore counters with a defensive front holding opponents to 192.4 total yards — 100.4 rushing, 92.0 passing — and 5.9 points per game. The defensive line of senior end Cornelius Bell, junior tackle LaDarrin Anthony, Daniels, and junior end D.Q. Scott has helped the Bulldogs limit foes to 2.4 yards per carry.

“We try to play technique on our defensive line first, then we’ll do some other things,” said Kilgore coach Mike Wood. “They’ve done a good job of learning the schemes we work on each week. We know we’re good at the linebacker position and try to secure our gaps up front and let those linebackers run to the football.”

That’s exactly what Kilgore’s defensive line has done. Senior middle linebacker A.J. Davis has a team-high 85 tackles, including 18 with three for loss in last week’s 14-10 win against Henderson. Junior linebacker Jake Brantley has 64 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions, and sophomore linebacker Kris Haynes has 47 tackles.

But Kilgore’s defensive line has produced, too. Anthony is second on the team with 65 tackles and leads the Dogs with 18 tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks. Scott has nine tackles for loss, including six sacks, to make Anthony and Scott one of the best pass-rush duos in East Texas.

That pass rush has helped Kilgore’s already talented secondary make even more plays. Juniors Q Brewster and Benny Colbert have combined for seven interceptions. Opponents complete only 48.2 percent of their pass attempts vs. Kilgore.

Traylor said Kilgore’s group joins Henderson and Plano Prestonwood Christian as the best defensive fronts the Buckeyes will have seen during the regular season.

“They play great technique and they’re very well coached,” Traylor said. “The Anthony kid is fantastic, and you’ve got an all-state linebacker playing in the middle. That’s as good a front six as we’ve seen this year.”

Wood had similar praise for Gilmer’s offensive line.

“(Offensive line coach) Kurt Traylor does a great job with their offensive line,” Wood said. “You know they’re going to be well coached. This may be the best offensive line we’ve faced this year. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Wood emphasized limiting big plays, which starts up front. Gilmer scored seven offensive touchdowns in last week’s 57-39 win at Bullard, and four of them went 80, 75, 45, and 42 yards.

While the skill players may get the glory, both coaches know Friday’s “District of Doom” championship game will be won or lost in the trenches.

“That’s where the game is always decided,” Traylor said. “But people don’t want to watch that part of the game. They want to watch the guys with the ball in their hands.”

Quarterback Tanner Barr (10) throws a pass while getting pass protection from lineman Brady English (55) during Gilmer’s 57-39 victory at Bullard on Nov. 2. (ETSN.fm)

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