CORSICANA, TX -- The Kilgore College Rangers fought through early-season adversity to come out on top, winning the Southwestern Junior College Football Conference Championship game Nov. 7 against Navarro College, 42-28.
It was the first time since 2004 that KC has won the championship game. With the win, KC improves to 7-4 on the season and will play in a bowl game (TBA) the first weekend of December.
After the game when head coach J.J. Eckert addressed his team on the field, he was a little teary-eyed talking about how proud he was of his team and how much heart this team possessed.
"Everybody counted us out early on in the season. This is a testament to you guys," Eckert said. "You could have easily quit when we were 3-4 early on in the season, but you didn't. That says a lot about your character and who you are. We also have the best assistant coaches in the nation."
Eckert called his assistant coaches up to stand in front of the players and praised his assistants for their effort this season, handing them the SWJCFC Championship trophy.
He also dedicated the win to student assistant coach and athletic trainer Chris Kennedy who is battling leukemia.
Kilgore once again had an impressive defensive effort, picking off four passes, forcing two Navarro fumbles and several key plays that held the Navarro offense on fourth down -- two of which were in the red zone. KC also blocked two Bulldog field goals.
Navarro started the scoring off first early in the game with a 78-yard touchdown pass. KC and NC then traded punts.
On the next drive, KC's Dante Lovilotte intercepted a Bulldog pass at Kilgore's own 24 yard line with 5:10 left in the first quarter.
KC scored on a 63-yard pass from Josh Bolfing that bounced off a Navarro defender right into the hands of freshman receiver Jarod Wood. Wood sprinted down the sidelines to score, making the score 7-7 with just over 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
On the next Navarro drive, KC forced a turnover that Mario McCain recovered at the Navarro 29 yard line.
KC capitalized on that turnover, scoring on a Martinez Syria 1-yard touchdown run, capping off a six-play drive with just seconds left in the first quarter to make the score 14-7.
Navarro got the ball first in the second half, but it was short-lived as KC's Deondre Toler intercepted a Bulldog pass to get the ball on a short field at the 21 yard line. On the next play, Syria scored to make the score in the favor of the Rangers, 21-7 early in the second quarter.
With just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter KC blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt. Toler picked the blocked ball up and ran it all the way back to the Bulldog 29 yard line.
Navarro held the Rangers and got the ball back, but the NC quarterback fumbled when he was hit by the KC defense. KC recovered the ball at the Navarro 37 yard line.
On the next play, QB Jaylen Fails pitched the ball on an option play to Syria who juked a couple of Bulldog defenders en route to a 37-yard touchdown to make the score 28-7 with 6:52 left in the first half.
On Navarro's next possession, it was forced to a fourth-and-one. KC's defense sacked the NC quarterback, giving KC the ball in Navarro territory at the 46 yard line.
KC's drive was ended with a Navarro interception for a 45-yard touchdown to make the score 28-14 with 3:33 left in the first half.
Kilgore got the ball right back, but fumbled the ball, giving Navarro the ball at KC's 26 yard line with just under 3 minutes left in the first half.
KC's defense held once again to make the score 28-14 going into halftime.
The Bulldogs got the ball first in the second half and drove right down the field, scoring on a 4-yard QB keeper to make the score 28-21 with 13:15 left in the third quarter.
After trading punts, KC's defense came up huge with an interception by Jerrell Sykes (his 10th of the season) with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
On that KC drive, Fails connected with Wood for a long reception, then hit Garrett Barton for a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Rangers the lead, 35-21 with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
With KC up 35-21, Sykes made another big play, blocking a 39-yard Bulldog field goal attempt. J'marcus Rhodes ran it back for KC to the Navarro 21 yard line with just over 14 minutes left in the game.
KC missed a 33-yard field goal with 12:45 left in the game that would have put the Rangers up by two scores.
The KC defense would step up once again, however, when Deondre Toler picked off a Bulldog pass, running it back for 35 yards for a touchdown, to make the score 42-21 with 8:27 left in the game.
With 5:31 left in the game, Navarro scored after a lengthy drive to make the score 42-28.
The KC offense burned enough clock on the last drive to preserve the 42-28 win.
PHOTO ABOVE: The Rangers celebrate after the game, winning the first SWJCFC title in 11 years for Kilgore College. Photo by Jon Vashey/KC
Click here to view additional photos from the game.