Kilgore’s Loaded Backfield Has Bulldogs One Win Away From Playing For State Title
KILGORE -- When asked about Kilgore's standout one-two punch at running back, quarterback Benny Colbert glanced over to Kevrin Justice and Davieonta "JuJu" Brown and immediately burst into laughter.
You see, the two Bulldog backs were engaged in an intense battle of Rock, Paper, Scissors in the corner of the locker room.
"Obviously, they have good chemistry," said Colbert once he had collected himself.
There are plenty of reasons for cheer these days in Kilgore where the football team is undefeated and playing for a berth in next week's state championship game at the billion-dollar palace called AT&T Stadium, but more affectionately dubbed "Jerry World."
And those with familiar with the history of Kilgore football know all about the Bulldogs' M.O.
"That's just a part of the tradition -- play physical football, run it down their throat and play good defense," Colbert said.
Kilgore has elevated running the football to an art form in the last two weeks. In its 56-21 regional-semifinal win over Frisco Lone Star, Kilgore rolled up 483 yards on the ground. But in its 59-19 rout of district rival Chapel Hill last Friday night, Kilgore stepped off 513 rushing yards and had three 100-yard rushers -- Justice, Brown and Colbert.
"The (cold weather) conditions kinda dictated what the game was going to be like, and that kinda played into our favor," said Kilgore coach Mike Wood. "We had a short field there early in the first half. Our offensive line, we kinda put the load on them and they did a great job of creating some creases. Those three kids don't need much, they just need a spot to get to and they can do a lot of special things with the ball."
Justice, a junior, is the team's leading rusher and is one of two 1,000-yard backs for Kilgore. He ran for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the game last week and enters Saturday's Class 3A Division I semifinal showdown with defending state champion Stephenville with 1,654 yards and 31 touchdowns on 174 carries -- an average of 9.5 yards per tote.
Brown is a senior and is also coming off a three-touchdown performance against Chapel Hill. His 1,176 yards and 18 touchdowns are both second on the team.
"Each one of them has some things that they do well," Wood said. "But the biggest thing is they finish runs. Learning to run behind your pads and learning not to let one guy bring you down … it just comes from great vision and always keeping those legs going and trying to extend plays. I think one of the things that's made us successful is the yards after contact. They believe that one guy can't tackle them and they'll always have a chance to get out of there and continue plays."
Colbert, who played almost exclusively at corner back last year, has been the X-factor in the playoffs. In his last two games, he's rushed for 353 of his season-total of 673 yards.
"Having good tailbacks in what we do offensively is important," Wood said. "But you throw Benny into the mix, you put another tailback back there with those two. It just gives you more options to be able to run the football. He's really progressed a lot as the year's gone on, started running the ball and getting some good reads and has started to take a little pressure off those tailbacks."
The chemistry shared between Justice and Brown extends well beyond Rock, Paper, Scissors.
"We both keep pushing the ball, hard and strong," Brown said. "But if we're not feeling like we're doing a great job, we let each other know that we need to step it up. I feel like me and him together, we're a great team."
Kilgore has seen every kind of defensive alignment designed to shut down the run -- mostly out of eight- and nine-man fronts. And every team's game plan has failed to accomplish its primary objective.
"The key is really in the offseason," Colbert said. "You know people are going to load the box against you, so you've got to get bigger and stronger in the offseason and take the weight room out there on the field with you."
For the running backs, all it takes is a little faith.
"You've just got to be committed to do what you do, believe in yourself and believe in your O-line," Justice said. "I give all the respect to my O-line; they do a great job of moving people off the line. I put all my faith in them and our receivers because they do a good job doing what they do."
Wood said Stephenville's defense is capable of disrupting Kilgore's offensive attack and one defender in particular has caught his attention.
"Their safety (UTEP commit Mookie Carlile) is one of the best in the state and I'm sure he'll be up there involved in the run," he said. "He's such a great tackler and a physical player from the third level. Those are things when you run the football and they start putting those third-level guys in there, those are guys you normally can't block and you're going to have to deal with them. (Stephenville is) athletic enough out on the edges to keep you in the box a little bit. And we're certainly going to have to do a great job of getting some pushes inside and creating some angles."
And while Kilgore's season may have come to an end with last year's matchup against Stephenville, second chances bring renewed hope.
"We're blessed to get this opportunity again," Colbert said. "We know we're capable of playing better than the way we played them last year. And we get another shot at them."