Kilgore Head Coach J.J. Eckert watched with frustration last fall when his team fell to 0-3 by giving up a slew of points and never achieving offensive rhythm.

The dean of SWJCFC coaches suffered through a difficult rest of 2011 that saw the Rangers miss the playoffs despite a late burst. Eckert and his staff went to work in the offseason knowing it would have nine starters back on defense to build around. They emphasized taking care of the little things and becoming a cohesive team.

It certainly has worked. The Rangers boast a 3-0 record and No. 10 national ranking when they host No. 8 Navarro in an early-conference showdown at R.E. St. John Stadium on Saturday.

“We returned nine players on defense and they were pups last year and have grown and become more invested,” Eckert said. “They took some bumps and after three games had given up 45 points per game. You’re not going to win very many games when you give up 45 points a game.

“I believe that we have also been more focused on doing the little things. Playing smart football, trying to win the turnover battle, playing solid special teams, and paying more attention to detail.”

Navarro Head Coach Bryan Mayper has spotted the differences in this year’s Kilgore team, namely that the Rangers lead the conference with a plus-5 turnover-takeaway ratio. Ironically, Navarro is last with a minus-2.

“Kilgore has played mistake-free football this season,” Mayper said. “That’s a credit to J.J. and his staff. They have their kids prepared to play hard and play patiently. They don’t give up a lot of big plays on defense and then their offense is playing with a great deal of confidence right now.

Kilgore will have to play its best game of the season to defeat a surging Navarro team that is fourth in the NJCAA in total offense, sixth in points per game and No. 1 in rushing offense.

“There is a ton of things that concern you about an offense that is averaging 551 yards and 50 points a game,” Eckert said. “The offensive line is very, very talented. They are very physical in their run schemes and do a great job of protecting the quarterback.

“The tailbacks are really talented as well. Traylon (Shead) is a great runner who runs their power play to perfection. He is extremely hard to bring down in space. (Tyler) Middleton is a guy that is versatile and explosive. He is averaging 14 yards every time he touches the football. That is amazing.”

So is the play of Navarro quarterback Stump Godfrey. After a subpar passing outing in his debut against Hutchinson, Godfrey passed for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 56-14 drubbing of Cisco. He also had 124 yards and two TDs on only nine carries.

“Godfrey places your defense in a really bad situation,” Eckert said. “He can work his progression and picked the defense apart, but when it’s not there, he can beat you with his feet. “

That’s what Mayper is hoping for on Saturday. The Navarro offense has been blazing so far this season, but he insists it could get even better.

“We’ve been getting away with making these mistakes the first three games because we’ve got some individual guys who’ve made some great plays,” Mayper said. “But a team like Kilgore will make you pay for making mistakes. That’s why you’ve really got to be on your toes.

“I tell the guys all the time it’s like being in the Army in battle. If you guy does the wrong thing or his own thing, it could get pretty gruesome. Although we’re not talking about life and death, we are talking about wins and losses, which means a lot to these kids.”

Mayper said he hopes to wear on Kilgore’s defense with lengthy drives, though he’s not adverse to another long Middleton TD run.

“With out offense, we try to make the other team focus on tons of stuff,” he said. “We are running a lot of different plays out of the same formation and sets, which makes it difficult for the other team. That gives us an advantage.

“Kilgore’s defense has been opportunistic this season and that’s why we’ve got to make them work with some long series. But when you’ve got a guy like Tyler in there, anything can happen. He stayed hidden last spring, but I told him if he wants to play, he’s got to get in there and work. Boy, he sure has taken me up on

that challenge and the rest of the league is paying for it right now.”

Trending Video

Recommended for you