Gilmer Buckeye fans and the Buckeye Varsity football team have been waiting since mid-December of last year after the team’s loss to the Carthage Bulldogs in the Class 4A DII state championship game to get another shot to stop the bark of the Dawgs. Their opportunity for redemption for the two losses to Carthage in 2020 finally rolled around Friday night in Carthage.
Every football fan in Texas knew the Bulldogs were not as formidable in 2021 as they were in 2020 and they also knew that the Buckeyes were full of depth in 2021 that they lacked in 2020. Most pundits and fans knew the game would be much closer than the two games in 2020, but no one gave Gilmer much of a chance against the 8-time state champions.
The game was a war from start to finish and when the final buzzer sounded Carthage walked away with a 28-7 victory. The Buckeyes fought hard and the Black Flag Defense held the Bulldogs on fourth down deep inside Buckeye territory three times in the contest.
Gilmer won the coin toss to open the game and elected to defer to the second half. Jose Hernandez booted the ball away to the Carthage 20 and it was returned to the 35 where Conner Cuff brought his offensive unit out for their first possession.
The Bulldogs took little time in scoring their first TD as they traveled the 65 yards in just 6 plays over 2:15. The score came on a 5-yard pass from Cuff to Montrell Hatten with 9:45 left in the first quarter of play. Omar Medrano hit the PAT and Carthage took an early 7-0 lead.
The Buckeyes went three-and-out on their first possession and after a 43-yard Cody Guidry punt the Bulldogs went on offense again at their 37. They appeared headed toward another score but Matthew Burton dropped Cuff for a 5-yard loss on third down and a fourth down pass fell incomplete and Gilmer took over on downs.
Unfortunately the Buckeyes went three-and-out again and Carthage took back over on offense at their 37 following a Guidry punt. The Dawgs managed three first downs but a fourth down pass fell incomplete and Gilmer took over on downs once again.
Gilmer could not pick up a first down once again and following a 44-yard Guidry punt Cuff brought his charges out again on a drive that began at his 27.
The Bulldogs moved down to the Gilmer 31 and yet another fourth down pass fell incomplete and Gilmer went back on the offensive.
The Carthage defense proved impenetrable once again and it was another three-and-out for Gilmer. Guidry hit a 37-yard punt and the Bulldogs set up shop at their 25.
Cuff drove his unit down the field once again and this time they moved the 75 yards into the end zone in 4:12, taking 10 plays to score the TD. Kadadriane Bell ran in from the 12 for the touchdown with 1:05 left in the half of play. Medrano’s extra point was good and Carthage led 14-0.
Gilmer got the ball back and ran 4 plays, ending the first half of play.
The Buckeyes received the second half kickoff and began their first drive of the third quarter at their 22. The offense managed one first down on the first play on a 17-yard run by Ashton Haynes but they were unable pick up a first down on the next series when Haynes was stuffed for no gain on fourth down and Carthage took over at the Buckeye 46.
The Bulldogs took advantage and moved the 46 yards in 9 plays and 4:43. The drive ended with a 16-yard TD pass from Cupp to Hatten with 5:00 left in the third quarter. Medrano was successful on the extra point and the Carthage lead expanded to 21-0.
The Buckeyes got the ball back at their 11 following the kickoff and had their best possession of the game. The offense moved down to the Carthage 37 where they faced a 4th-and-1. They called timeout to try to figure out the right play to get a first down. Parker Gilow caught a 20-yard pass down to the 22 and the drive extended for another series. On a fourth down from the 17 Tennison hit Rohan Fluellen with a TD pass with 7:41 left in the game to finally get Gilmer on the board. Jose Hernandez was good on the extra point attempt and the Carthage lead was cut to 21-7.
Gilmer kicked onside to the Carthage 43 but the Bulldogs recovered the ball. The Buckeyes made a break when Matthew Burton caused a bad snap leading to a 19-yard loss and Hernandez recovered for Gilmer and it looked like the Bucks might get back in the game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards.
Michael Delaney jumped the route on a Tennison pass and returned the interception for a 65-yard pick 6 score with 4:03 left in the game. Medrano was true on the PAT and the Carthage lead advanced to 28-7 in what was a potential 14-point turnaround. Medrano’s extra point try was good and Carthage went up 28-7.
Gilmer started their next drive at their 16. They managed one first down but Tennison was dropped for a loss on the Gilmer 23 on fourth down and the ball turned over on downs.
The Buckeyes got one more chance on offense with 6.8 seconds left when they recovered a fumble at their 39. Tennison ran for a gain of 5 and the game to an end with the Bulldogs claiming the 28-7 win.
While Coach Alan Metzel was disappointed in the loss, he was very pleased with his team’s play we talked with him at the game’s conclusion.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort our guys had, for the way they played. They did it the right way. We missed on some opportunities just to continue some drives in the first half which killed some of our continuity. We couldn’t find a rhythm, so that hurt us. Second half we had where we did convert a few; that’s what you want. The one drive where we scored we made some tremendous plays. Brandon did a tremendous plays throwing against the grain. Rohan going up and making the catch, (was a) super job right there. I think that drives like that can help guys know that these are the things we can do. We’ve just got to be more consistent on those when we’re playing against somebody at that level.”
We asked the coach to talk about the Black Flag making three 4th down stops deep in Gilmer territory and he replied, “Just amazing resiliency, amazing grit that they showed and they played the next play. We might have a penalty or they’d get a key first down and here they’d get inside the 30 or so and they’d just rise up and somehow keep them out. They kept giving us chances. That’s all you can ask. They did their part tonight. We’ve got to close the gap more offensively against their defense.”
We asked Coach Metzel if he agreed the Bulldogs will be thinking about the Buckeyes for the next 11 weeks when the two could potentially meet again in 2021 for the Class 4A DII State Championship.
“Sure, sure. You had a shot (just before the pick 6). I hate it for our guys that we didn’t get to see that (a second TD) happen because that would have been a huge propel into the district play, that kind of thing with that sort of momentum, but it didn’t happen and their guy made a great play and took it back to the house and we just have to overcome those things.”
It didn’t appear that the team was down and demoralized after the game and we asked the coach about that.
“They’re not. They’re disappointed that we lost, they are, but you can see it in their eyes. They played all the way till that last play, so to me that said so much right there and like I said, I’m very, very proud of them”
We also wanted to know how big the open week will be for the Buckeyes to work our minor injuries before district starts on Oct. 8 on the road in Spring Hill.
“It’s critical, it really is. If you’re going to attempt…our goal every year is to play 16 weeks and if you’re going to play 16 weeks you’ve got to use your open week well. You’ve got to get guys rest, you’ve got to do a great job of rehab, get those injuries, those nicks cleaned up. Then we are out there we’ve got to go hard and work on some things that we’ve got to get fixed, and then here goes district play, 0-0.”
We ended our visit asking Coach Metzel if he had anything he wanted to say to the Army of Buckeyes.
“They were awesome. The band was just so loud when they had the ball trying to convert. The fans were loud; they were into it. Couldn’t be more proud to be a Gilmer Buckeye.”
Enjoy the open week next week Buckeye fans and think about taking in a game to see some of the other talented teams in East Texas!