Kilgore Survives Late Push From Carrollton Ranchview To Reach Third Consecutive State Tournament
TYLER -- Kilgore's hopes, dreams and hauntings are still in front of them, but it was nice to stop and smell the roses Saturday afternoon at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
The Bulldogs defeated Carrollton Ranchview, 4-3, to reach the state tournament for a third consecutive season in the boys' Class 4A Region II championship game. They're once again the best team in a quadrant of the state and will be rewarded with a state semifinal game Wednesday at Birckelbach Field in Georgetown.
The state semifinal level has been Kilgore's undoing the past two seasons.
"Crazy," head coach Austin Walker said while his players scattered to celebrate with friends and family beyond the field's gates. "It doesn't happen very often. It's not something you see all the time. Obviously, it's great for them. Some of them are seniors and have been here for three years and just really wanted to get back and have another chance at it. I'm just glad that we did."
It wasn't easy for Kilgore (20-5-2) to join Bridgeport, Houston Wheatley and Progreso as the state's final four field.
Ranchview (20-2-1) surprised the pundits after a bland showing in its regional semifinal game against Chapel Hill compared to Kilgore's firework show in the other semifinal contest. The Metroplex side would not go away, even after Yonatan Contreras scored for a 4-1 Bulldogs lead at the 23:51 mark of the second half.
It took freshman forward David Rodriguez 29 seconds to begin Ranchview's answer. His second goal of the game gave the squad some of its confidence back, and it began to push the tempo the other way.
Rodriguez recorded a hat trick goal 10 minutes later to set up a frantic finish.
Ranchview had three great scoring chances in the final three minutes and got turned away. Kilgore goalkeeper Kaleb Jett made two impressive saves and defenseman Daniel Sifford got his body on Rodriguez as he attempted to wind up on a bouncing ball for the equalizer.
The Bulldogs also benefitted from earlier Ranchview misfires. Senior forward Arturo Rodriguez hit the outside of the post in the first half and could not get control of what would have been a pointblank shot minutes ahead of the late flurry.
East Texas fans thought Kilgore was well on its way to steamrolling Ranchview when a 30-yard pass from Raul Cedillo found the foot of Wanya McIntyre for a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Both teams got more reserved instead.
Ranchview actually helped get both squads out of the slump.
David Rodriguez tied the game six minutes into the second half, but a 30-yard chip by Contreras to sophomore forward Elian Torres a minute later put the Bulldogs back in control.
Torres found the back of the net once again six minutes later on a 15-yard strike for his second straight two-goal game. Three minutes after that goal, Contreras delivered what ultimately was the game-winning score after coming up with his own rebound off Ranchview keeper Franklin Mejia.
"This is amazing," Torres said. "At practice, we've given it everything because we don't want to lose at this level again. I'm sure anyone would want to be a part of this program right now."
Kilgore showed progress in its most recent state semifinal game, a 0-0 draw with eventual state champion Palestine settled by penalty kicks. The Bulldogs lost a 5-1 game in the 2015 semifinals to San Elizario from the El Paso area.
There's still a lot to prove in Georgetown. Fortunately, there is now officially a chance to do just that.
"I think it's more from being there before," Walker said. "I'm hoping we're going to be more on a mission this week to really get there and focus. Hopefully, we get a good draw and can take it to who comes next."