By Keith MacPherson, Register Sports Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
GAINESVILLE — Gainesville knows what is in front of them.
A chance to play for a state title, a perfect season on the line and a big task in trying to take out the No. 4 ranked team in the state.
The Leopards are more than up for the challenge as they head into tonight’s Region II-3A final against Kilgore at Forney’s City Bank Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
“I told the kids the other day, ‘We are six practices away from the state finals,’” Gainesville coach Keith Hall said. “We are one game away from the semis. The magnitude of the games really are huge. It’s something you think about in August -- about advancing to the quarterfinals or the state semifinals. We are living the dream and we know how close we are to our ultimate goal.”
The Leopards (12-0) are looking to advance to the Class 3A state semifinals for the first time since 2005 -- when Gainesville would eventually fall in the state final to Wimberly.
Gainesville has already shocked the state more than once -- turning a 2-8 record into a regional finalist over an offseason as well as piling up a number of “upset” wins along the way.
“I think the year we have had and the way we played the last two playoff games we showed we deserve to be here,” Hall said. “You have to be good to get to this point. You look at the teams that are still in the playoffs -- Kilgore, Stephenville, Abilene Wylie or in Division II with Celina, Argyle, Henderson and Gilmer -- those are some good names. You have to be a good team to be this far.”
Kilgore (11-1) will present a challenge unmatched in previous games throughout the season. The Bulldogs went 9-6 last year in Class 4A while going four rounds deep in the postseason.
The UIL realignment dropped the Bulldogs, whose only loss came in district play to No. 10 state-ranked Gilmer, to Region II-3A where they will now meet the Leopards.
“Kilgore is an awfully talented football team,” Hall said. “They are big and fast and do a good job on offense. ... They are really good up front on both sides of the ball. I think speedwise we match up well. It’s going to come down to what happens up front.”
Kilgore features Class 4A all-state linebacker AJ Davis, who recorded 179 tackles last year as well as two defensive tackles who weigh in north of 280 pounds.
The Bulldogs’ offense runs through quarterback Cooper Coldiron as well as a trio of running backs as they headline a run heavy attack.
“They run probably 70 percent and pass 30 percent,” Hall said. “They do a good job at the play action and run game. They are real good up front offensively.”
With the stakes high and a season on the line, Hall is confident in his team’s ability to gear up for the game and hopes his players will stick to business as usual.
“We have to continue to make positive plays on offense,” Hall said. “We can’t give them a short field, we have to play special teams well and play sound defense. I think it could be a defensive battle. I really think field position will play a big part in the game. It’s going to be a great test. We’re excited about it.”