Kilgore, Northwest Mississippi relying on sophomores in inaugural Brazos Valley Bowl

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It takes a lot to earn a spot in a junior college bowl game – dedication, passion, a commitment to excellence.
It also takes veteran leadership – both on the sidelines and on the field. Both the 11th-ranked Kilgore College Rangers and the 13th-ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College Rangers have relied on strong sophomore classes to lead them to the postseason, and now both teams are looking for an even bigger prize – the inaugural Brazos Valley Bowl championship.
The Brazos Valley Bowl presented by Blinn College will be played at Kyle Field, the largest venue for a junior college bowl game in the nation. Kickoff is set for noon Saturday, with an 11:30 a.m. pregame show that will include dance teams from 14 high schools from across the state. The Kilgore College Rangerettes dance team will perform at halftime.
Kilgore (8-2) will be making its 19th bowl appearance in school history and its fifth since 2001. The Rangers’ last bowl appearance came in 2007.
“This is something our players will remember forever,” said J.J. Eckert, now in his sixth season as Kilgore’s head coach. “Our players are extremely excited to play in the Brazos Valley Bowl game and we’re honored to participate.”
The Rangers are led by freshman quarterback Tanner Tausch, who has thrown for 1,694 yards and 16 touchdowns in nine games. Sophomore Ed’Marques Batties has emerged as Tausch’s favorite target, catching 59 passes for 845 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Tausch was twice named the Southwest Junior College Football Conference offensive player of the week this season.
“Tanner is a great student of the game,” Eckert said. “He’s helped us reach some heights that are hard for a freshman to do. He’s been a real cornerstone for this football team, especially for a guy just out of high school.”
Kilgore’s rushing attack is split primarily between sophomore running back Karrion Morrisey (375 yards, two touchdowns), freshman running back Courtland Smith (280 yards, four touchdowns) and sophomore quarterback Emory Taylor (194 yards, seven touchdowns).
Defensively, the Rangers are led by linebacker Charles Woods, the SWJCFC defensive MVP. The sophomore from Humble posted a league-high 128 tackles while also recording three sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions.
“What a spectacular season,” Eckert said. “He doesn’t meet the measurements Division I coaches are always looking for on paper, but when you see him on video he’s amazing. He’s a relentless football player who has an uncanny ability to make plays.”
Sophomore linebacker Matthew Greg has 76 tackles on the year, and sophomore defensive back James Jones has 59 tackles and three interceptions.
Tausch, Woods, Jones, Batties and defensive ends Xavier Davis and Cooper Washington have all received interest from four-year college recruiters.
“We have 22 sophomores and they’re special, special young men,” Eckert said. “The bumps and bruises we took as a team last year gave them a bit of a chip on their shoulder and we laid the foundation for this team to excel in the spring and the summer.”
Northwest Mississippi (7-2) emerged this season as one of the top programs in the potent Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges after opening the season ranked 11th in the nation. The Rangers are making the ninth bowl appearance in program history and the team’s first since 1998.
“Everybody’s excited – our kids, the community, our administration and faculty and our coaches,” said coach Ricky Woods, now in his fifth season at Northwest Mississippi. “It’s going to be a unique experience.”
The offense has averaged 37 points per game behind a balanced attack led by sophomore quarterback Domonique Harris, a dual-threat signal caller who started the Rangers’ final four games at running back in 2011. Harris has thrown for 2,109 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, while freshman running back Damian Baker has run for 983 yards and nine touchdowns. Freshman Darreall Joyner leads the Rangers with 33 receptions for 545 yards and two touchdowns.
“We brought a lot of guys back on offense,” Ricky Woods said. “We have a sophomore quarterback who can run and throw, and all but one of our linemen is a returning sophomore. I think the success of all our running backs is a credit to the offensive line.”
Defensively, the Rangers are led by freshman defensive back Ty Northern, who has 63 tackles and an interception this season. Sophomore linebacker Demarcus Peques has 62 tackles, while sophomore defensive end Randolph Williams has 59.
“We’ve got three sophomore linebackers and they’re really what makes us click,” Ricky Woods said.
Defensive tackle Jerome McClain has already received offers from Arizona State, Indiana, Minnesota and South Alabama, while center Austin Douglas has offers from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. Williams, offensive lineman Chris Chalmers and kicker Chase Carpenter have also received interest from four-year schools.
Fifteen players earned all-MACJC honors at the conclusion of the regular season, including three – Douglas, Chalmers and Desmond LaVelle – who received all-region recognition and are now eligible for All-American honors.
Tickets are free for attendees aged 18 and under and for students with a college ID. All other tickets are $5 at the gate. The game will be broadcast live on KZNE 1150-AM.
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About the Brazos Valley Bowl
The Brazos Valley Bowl was the result of Blinn’s partnerships with community leaders aimed at boosting economic activity in the region during the historically sluggish month of December. Initial funding for the bowl game was provided by the City of College Station through Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. According to an estimate by the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau, the event could bring $1 million in economic activity to the community as visitors shop, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants over the course of the bowl weekend.

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