Kilgore is back.

The fall was fast for Kilgore following a state title game appearance in 2013. The Bulldogs finished fourth in District 9-4A Division I last season. Kilgore went 4-7 and lost in the bi-district round of the state playoffs to Jasper.

Now, Mike Wood has his Bulldogs are back on top of the district and on a seven-game winning-streak entering the final game of the regular season.

“We had a lot of key injuries last season and it is hard to adjust for that. We were down five or six starters by the time district play began and we could never turn the corner and get healthy. It is hard to win like that in the district we play in,” Wood said. “We’re doing some new stuff this year on both sides of the ball and we needed time for our kids to learn what we were doing early in the season, especially with some young guys at key spots. Our confidence grew as we got more familiar with what we’re doing on offense and defense.”

Kilgore faced a tough non-district schedule. The Bulldogs played four Class 5A teams to start the season, losing to Nacogdoches and Corpus Christi Flour Bluff in the first two weeks of the season before rebounding with wins over Pine Tree and Texas High. Wins over district title contenders like Carthage and Chapel Hill followed, thanks in large part to youth.

“As the year has gone on, the young players are starting to earn their stripes and get respect from the seniors. We’re going to play who gives us the best shot to win and those young guys have earned snaps. Our older guys have seen that and some of those young guys are leaders on this football team,” Wood said. “We’re improving each week. We were limited early on offense because we tried to keep adding things in as we entered district, but our guys are grasping it and everyone is improving together.”

Leading the youth movement in Kilgore is quarterback Patrick Jackson. Kilgore is known for its running game and defense, but the sophomore quarterback is growing up in front of Wood’s eyes.

“Jackson is one of the main reasons we changed the offense to a spread-option look. We wanted to use our speed on the edges and we knew we’d be a smaller team this year. He’s a tough competitor. He has that will to win and he’s really taken on the role as our quarterback,” Wood said. “We have a few young guys like Jonathan Shephard and Ty Wallace also making plays. It’s been fun to watch the toughness of this whole group. We knew we’d be young, but we’re getting tougher and tougher each week. That has been a pleasant surprise.”