No. 8 Kilgore Bulldogs (0-0)

vs.

Nacogdoches Dragons (0-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday
Dragon Stadium, Nacogdoches

Coaches
  • Kilgore: Mike Wood
  • Nacogdoches: Bobby Reyes

 

Next week
  • Kilgore: vs. Corpus Christi Flour Bluff (at Galena Park), Sept. 6
  • Nacogdoches: at Hallsville, Sept. 5

 

Playmakers

Kilgore

  • RB Kevrin Justice, Sr., 6-0, 180 (218 carries, 1,966 yards, 36 TDs; committed to Houston)
  • OL Blake Guthrie, Sr., 6-1, 260
  • LB Kris Haynes, Sr., 5-11, 220 (131 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 8 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 1 INT)
  • DL Jordan Thompson, Sr., 6-1, 190 (41 tackles, 3 for loss, 7 QB pressures)
  • TE/DL Jarod Wood, Sr., 6-2, 200 (6 catches, 191 yards, 4 TDs)
  • WR Nick Orange, Sr., 6-2, 180 (20 catches, 270 yards, 2 TDs)
  • DL Jacobie Wafer, Sr. (43 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 sacks, 7 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble)
  • LB Mason Shelton, Jr. (97 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 QB pressures, 1 blocked kick)

 

Nacogdoches

  • S Brandon Jones, Jr., 6-0, 185 (95 tackles, 5 INTs)
  • CB Jaylon Lane, Sr., 6-2, 180 (4 INTs; transfer from San Angelo Central; committed to Oklahoma State)
  • S Corey Lane, Jr., 5-11, 185 (transfer from San Angelo Central)
  • QB Hunter McClellan, Sr., 6-2, 175 (1,014 passing yards, 15 TDs in 6 games)
  • WR Sam Morgan, Sr., 5-11, 175
  • CB Latavion "Tay" Forest, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • WR Ken Rogers, Sr., 5-11, 167
  • RB Coronado Tolbert, Sr.

 

Just the facts
  • Since 1950, Kilgore and Nacogdoches have met 29 times. Kilgore leads the series, 14-13-2, and has won six of the last eight meetings.
  • Kilgore and Nacogdoches shared the same Class 4A district from 2004-11.
  • Kilgore is 10-4 in season openers since 2000. The Bulldogs have won their last two after losing four of five from 2007-11.
  • In four seasons under head coach Mike Wood, Kilgore has amassed a 37-15 record -- 25-3 the last two seasons.
  • Kilgore has five offensive and three defensive starters returning from last year's 14-1 Class 3A Division I state runner-up.
  • Since 2000, Nacogdoches is 6-8 in season openers.
  • Nacogdoches qualified for the playoffs last season for only the second time since 1993. The Dragons are just two years removed from an 0-10 season.
  • Nacogdoches has seven offensive and four defensive starters returning from last year's 7-4 Class 4A Division I bi-district finalist.

 

Kilgore RB Kevrin Justice. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Key matchup: Kilgore offensive line vs. Nacogdoches defensive front. It almost goes without saying, but Kilgore would prefer to attempt as few passes as possible, and instead, rely on a sturdy offensive line and explosive running game to dictate tempo. It's a formula that's worked for the better part of three decades, helping Kilgore become one of East Texas' most successful football programs. With the return of running back Kevrin Justice, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards a season ago despite splitting carries with another 1,000-yard back, there's no reason to believe Kilgore will divert from its age-old philosophy of ground-and-pound. But there's also an important incentive for Kilgore to establish the run, and it has everything to do with what Nacogdoches has in its secondary.

It'd be a challenge to find a more talented defensive backfield in the entire state than the one Nacogdoches plans on putting on the field in 2014. Senior cornerback Jaylon Lane, a move-in from San Angelo, has almost 40 Division I FBS offers and is committed to Oklahoma State. Junior safety Brandon Jones is widely regarded as East Texas' top overall recruit in the 2016 class and the owner of 28 FBS offers. And if that weren't enough, junior safety Corey Lane has been offered by Louisiana Tech and senior cornerback Latavion "Tay" Forest has college potential as well. If Kilgore cannot consistently move the chains on the ground, it will be taken out of its comfort zone by having a quarterback not used to dropping back with regularity survey the field against one of the best secondaries this area has seen in a while.

Nacogdoches safety Brandon Jones. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Don't be surprised if: Nacogdoches' Jones spends most of his time playing close to the line of scrimmage. The Dragons' versatile defensive back is more than capable of playing deep in coverage, but he proved as a sophomore that he's not afraid to play physical near the point of attack. And with Kilgore's penchant for running the ball out of tight formations, it would make sense to have arguably Nacogdoches' top tackler closer to the action. But even if Kilgore is having success on the ground, expect the Bulldogs to test Nacogdoches' vaunted secondary by taking calculated risks down the field in one-on-one situations, especially if there are no deep safeties hanging back in coverage.

Aside from the natural adrenaline produced by season openers, the intensity level Friday night could be even higher. Both teams, no doubt, feel like they have something to prove this season. Kilgore is out to shake off the disappointment felt after its final game of 2013 -- a loss to rival Carthage in the Class 3A Division I state championship game. Meanwhile, Nacogdoches is a team aching for respect after spending so many years in the shadow of East Texas' elite programs.