Friday's Class 3A Division I state championship game participants Kilgore and Carthage share only one common opponent -- another set of Bulldogs.

ETSN.fm sat down with Chapel Hill head coach Thomas Sitton to discuss the marquee showdown between the East Texas powers, which is set for a noon kickoff from AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Sitton has the unique experience of having coached in an all-East Texas state title game when his team took on Highway 64 neighbor Henderson for the 3A D-I crown in 2010. Chapel Hill fell short in that game, 28-21, but rebounded the next year with a 20-19 victory over Alvarado in the state final.

Chapel Hill went 0-3 against Carthage and Kilgore in 2013 -- falling to Carthage 52-22 in non-district, Kilgore 42-25 in District 16-3A play and Kilgore again in the regional finals, a 59-19 loss.

Before even beginning the question-and-answer session, Sitton wanted to make sure both Carthage and Kilgore knew how he felt about both programs.

"When it comes down to those two teams, it doesn't matter what classification you're talking about in East Texas or even in the state of Texas ... they're both some of the most respected programs in the state," he said. "As far as the coaching jobs that they do at both of those schools, Coach Wood and Coach Surratt and their coaching staffs do such an unbelievable job of week-in and week-out preparing their kids to play at a very high level. It doesn't matter what year it is; they'll graduate some great kids here and some great kids there, and they always come back and are playing the kind of football that you see every year. I just have a very high respect for them and their ability to continue and build a great program, and make them two of the best programs in the state of Texas."

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Q & A With Chapel Hill Head Coach Thomas Sitton

  • ETSN.fm: You coached in an all-East Texas state championship game in 2010. Despite coming out on the losing end, have you been able to look back and reflect on how special it was?
  • Thomas Sitton: It was. First of all, you've gotta believe that East Texas has some of the best football in the state of Texas. It was an awesome feeling, kinda the same situation Kilgore and Carthage are in right now. The towns have played each other for years and a lot of the people know each other from just living so close together. Seeing all the support and all the fans up there in the stands watching that football game.

 

  • ETSN: Your team played both Carthage and Kilgore this season. Did you anticipate both having good chances of ultimately reaching the title game?
  • TS: Yeah, no doubt. Both teams are so well-coached. They have great coaching staffs, they do a great job in all three phases of the game of football. They both have weapons. Kilgore's real good at pounding the football and playing great defense and they're awesome in the kicking game. Carthage is a little bit more balanced; they throw it a little bit better than Kilgore can. But they also have some unbelievable athletes on defense that fly around, also great in the kicking game.

 

  • ETSN: What challenge does Carthage's offense create?
  • TS: The thing about Carthage is you've got to be able to stop both, which makes it tough. Their quarterback is a three-year starter, probably one of the best around here in East Texas. They have the huge, big, tall receivers who they like to throw to. And then up front, their O-line is as big as anybody's you'll play against. They run their schemes well. They have some backs, a couple backs that can really go the distance if they hit a seam. It makes it tough defending them for sure."

 

  • ETSN: What challenge does Kilgore's offense create?
  • TS: Kilgore is so physical. They bring a physical mentality to the game every Friday night. The schemes that they run offensively with the running game, it doesn't really matter what defensive front you throw up against it. They seem to figure it out. You can give them a trick front that you thought maybe they'd never seen before, and their kids figure it out and fit it up right. Those backs are so accustomed to seeing the seam and hitting the cut and finding it, and they get positive yardage on every play.

 

  • ETSN: Defensively, what sets Carthage apart?
  • TS: Carthage, to me, is very sound in what they do. They don't give up very many big plays at all. They're very athletic. Their D-lineman (Mario McCain) is one of the best ones we went against all year long. He's definitely got a motor; I think he's been starting since he was a freshman, a very talented player. But they've got a lot of athleticism. I've been keeping up with them a little bit, and it seems like they've gotten better and better every week defensively. They started off real young, but are playing at a real high level right now. They should be ready to go.

 

  • ETSN: What is the key behind Kilgore's defense?
  • TS: I would probably say their front seven is the probably the best front seven you'll face all year long. They're very well-coached, play their technique well. It seems like every now and then you'll see a seam, but the kids play so hard that it doesn't last long; you've got to hit it right then when it comes to the run game. No. 40 for them -- (Jake Brantley) -- he's definitely one of the top outside backers that you'll see in the state of Texas, as far as setting the edge and turning it back in to those six guys. And their secondary -- very athletic, can run with anybody that they go up against. The main thing as far as both of teams go, both teams are very physical and play some tough, hard-nosed football.

 

  • ETSN: Your thoughts on potentially sharing a district with both Carthage and Kilgore next year?
  • TS: Well, my thoughts would be I sure hope not. Because you know every year they're going to be, like I said, well-coached. They have a lot of tradition going through their programs, play a high level of football and the kids play hard. They'll graduate some great kids, but then they just reload the next year and are right up there where they left off.