SPRINGTOWN — It took 13 games, countless upsets, an undefeated run through district and two playoff wins but Leopards finally met their match.
Gainesville fell to No. 4 state-ranked Kilgore 30-14 in the Region II-3A Division Ifinal at Forney’s City Bank Stadium on Friday, ending the Leopards season two games short of the state final.
Kilgore (12-1) will play Stephenville in the Class 3A Division I state semifinal next week.
The Bulldogs used a first half full of big plays combined with a stingy second half defense to stifle the previously undefeated Leopards (12-1).
Kilgore rushed out to a 21-7 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter with a 23-yard run from Kervin Juctice – something that would become a theme on the night.
Justice slashed through the Gainesville defense for a game-high 142 yards and 13. Cornelius Bell had two touchdowns on a pair of 1-yard runs.
Gainesville cut the Kilgore lead to 21-14 on its next possession following the Justice’s long scoring run when Leopard quarterback Denzel Johnson’s fourth-and-14 pass tipped off a defender’s fingers and into the hands of David Moore for a 28-yard touchdown.
Johnson finished with 185 yards on 7 of 19 passing with two touchdowns and three interceptions for the Leopards. He also rushed for a team-high 42 yards.
Moore caught both of Johnson’s touchdown passes with a 58-yard score with 9:19 to go in the first quarter to tie the game early at 7-7. The senior caught the pass on a slant route, making his defender miss before having a clear path to the end zone.
Kilgore got on the scoreboard first with a long pass play of its own. Bulldog quarterback Cooper Coldiron found a wide-open DaQuavian Brewster behind the Leopard defense for a 50-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage.
Coldiron finished with 111 yards passing and 18 yards rushing for the Bulldogs, who outgained the Leopards 412-253 in total yards.
Gainesville star running back Adam Berryman was limited to 25 yards on nine carries. The junior was questionable earlier in the week with an injured shoulder.
Kilgore kicker Hector Peralez made the score 24-14 as time expired for halftime with a 38-yard field goal.
The Leopards missed a trio of chances to score in the third quarter starting with a Zukari Long fumble recovery on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the second half. The Leopards would move backwards before a Hector Segrero 38-yard field goal try fell a few yards short.
Gainesville would catch another break when a bad Peralez punt turned into a 25-yard punt return for Jacob Royal to set the Leopards up at the Kilgore 26. The Leopards would again move backwards before turning the ball over on downs.
The Leopards would move the ball deep into the Bulldogs’ territory a final time after Johnson broke off a 57-yard run to move them to the Kilgore 11. A Leopard penalty and a sack forced Gainesville into a third-and-long before Johnson would throw an interception.
Kilgore would put the final nail in the Leopards season on its ensuing drive, going 95 yards on 10 plays before Bell punched it in from a yard out to make it 30-14 with a missed extra point.
The Bulldogs advance to the fourth round of the playoffs for their second consecutive season. They reached the Region II-4A Division II final a year ago before being dropped to Class 3A last spring by the UIL when they were 39 students below the cutoff for realignment.
The loss ends an undefeated season for the Leopards – just the sixth in team history – and wraps up its best season since 2005. Gainesville won the District 9-3A title while also claiming bi-district and area crowns along the way – a far cry from the 2-8 finish the Leopards experienced the year prior.