The Gilmer Buckeyes 2017 playoff run sadly came to a screeching halt at Mesquite Memorial Stadium Friday night, as the Melissa Cardinals eliminated Gilmer in the Class 4A Division II Regional Semi-Final game by the score of 35-23. Although it was a disappointment for all Buckeye fans, this team over-achieved all season long. The talent level at some positions wasn’t as great as in the past few seasons, but the team gave everything they had and more and we say thanks for another great year. The loss ends Gilmer’s season at 10-3, and with the win, Melissa moves to 12-1 on the year and earns the right to move on to take on 13-0 Pleasant Grove in the Regional Finals Friday night in Paris. The Hawks dismantled Celina by the score of 33-14.
Things started off well for the Bucks in the game as they won the toss and elected to receive. Neither team could get a lot going on their first possessions, but Gilmer took 3:56 and moved 57 yards in 10 plays on their second possession, finding the end zone for the first time with 4:13 left in the first quarter when Poppy Brown hit Bran Webb on a 25-yard TD pass. Adan Ibarra hit the PAT and Gilmer led 7-0.
The Buckeyes shocked the Cardinals with an onside kick following the TD and Tra Fluellen recovered the ball at the Melissa 47. Brown connected with Lusty for 18 yards on the first play, but the drive stalled at the Melissa 29 and the Cardinals took over on downs.
Brendon Lewis moved his team all the way down to the Buckeye 20, but the Black Flag Defense held on a 4th and 8, and Brown and company were back in business on offense. They moved 80 yards in 5 plays and took 2:00 before find the end zone again. The score came on a 3-yard run by Brown. Ibarra was true on the extra point, and the Gilmer lead swelled to 14-0 with 11:26 left in the first half.
Melissa looked like they would find the end zone on their ensuing possession, but on the twelfth play of the drive, Chris Hollis intercepted Lewis in the end zone ending the threat and giving the Bucks the ball at their 20.
Brown and the offense picked up two first downs, but had to punt away on the third series. Brown’s rugby-style punt went into the end zone and the Cardinals took over at their 20.
Both teams had the ball once more before halftime, but both team’s defenses prevented an additional scoring before the teams departed to their respective locker rooms for the halftime festivities and regrouping for the second half.
Melissa got the ball to begin the third quarter, but after surrendering a 60-yard pass from Lewis to Kennedy Lewis, the Black Flag shut the door and Brown and the offense took back over on the Gilmer 8.
After securing one first down Lukas Enloe boomed a 59-yard punt that was downed at the Cardinal 13. On the first play of the possession, Breelyn Armstrong ran for 30 yards and Melissa was on the move. The 6-play drive went 81 yards in just 1:27 before the Cardinals lit up the scoreboard for the first time on a 1-yard TD run by Ja’Bray Young with 5:44 left in the third quarter. Grayson Hurst hit the PAT, and the Gilmer lead was cut to 14-7.
Hurst kicked onside following the score, and Melissa recovered the ball in a scrum at the midfield stripe. On the first play of the possession, Young ran 50 yards for the second Cardinals TD in just 16 seconds. Hurst hit the PAT and the game was tied 14-14 with 5:38 left in the game.
Gilmer came right back on their ensuing possession, moving 73 yards in 7 plays and consuming 2:22 off the clock. The score came on a 30-yard pass from Brown to Webb with 3:06 left in the third quarter. Ibarra nailed the extra point, and the Buckeyes were back in the lead, 21-14.
The kickoff following the TD was fumbled, but the Cardinals got a lucky break and recovered at their 13. Lewis had his team in the end zone again in just 4 plays, moving the 87 yards in 1:57. The score came on an 80-yard pass and run from Brendon Lewis to Kennedy Lewis with 3:06 left in the third quarter, bringing the score to 21-20 in favor of the Bucks. Hurst’s PAT attempt was blocked and Larry Montgomery scooped up the ball and raced into the end zone, giving Gilmer two points, and running the score to 23-20.
The Buckeyes started in great position on their next possession, as Hollis returned the kick from the Gilmer 17 out to the 41. After two incompletions, Brown’s pass was intercepted at the Melissa 48 by Marvin Jordan and the Cardinals were back on offense.
Lewis took his team the 52 yards to pay dirt in 7 plays and took only 49 seconds before they found the end zone for another score. The TD came on a 12-yard run by Young with 10:55 left in the game. Brendon Lewis threw to Kennedy Lewis for the 2-point conversion, and Melissa had their first lead of the night, 28-23.
The Buckeyes got the ball back on their 44 after a 21-yard return by Webb, and looked as if they would most certainly punch the ball into the end zone again, but it wasn’t to be. On the seventh play of the possession, Brown hit Qua Heath on a 48-yard TD pass, but the Buckeyes were called for an ineligible man downfield, and the score was negated. That play turned out to be the back-breaker for Gilmer. The Bucks were unable to recover from the penalty and were forced to punt the ball away on a fourth-and-twelve. Enloe’s kick traveled 33 yards down to the Melissa 20, and the Cards were back to the field on offense.
After giving up one first down on a 15-yard face mask penalty, the Black Flag forced a punt and Gilmer took over at their 21 with 6:15 remaining and plenty of time to take the lead back and grab the victory. They managed to pick up one first down on the drive, but Brown was sacked for a 6-yard loss on the first play of the next series and Melissa shut the Buckeyes down and forced a punt that was downed at the Cardinal 49 with 3:57 left in the game.
Melissa put the game on ice on the very next play, as Young ran the 51 yards into the end zone in 10 seconds. Hurst connected on the PAT, and Melissa led 35-21 with 3:31 left in the game.
Gilmer go the ball back at their 42 after a 21-yard return by Montgomery and the Buckeyes still had time to get back into the game. Unfortunately, Brown was intercepted by BJ Lewis at the Melissa 22. Brendon Lewis led his team to two first downs, and then went into victory formation for the next two plays to end the game.
We talked with Coach Matt Turner after the game to get his thoughts after the loss. “Our guys are going to play 48 minutes or ever how long it takes. They just made more plays than us tonight and we’ve got to tip our hat to them. Coach (Seth) Stinton and his staff did a great job. The kids played hard and they made some big plays. Our kids did too; they just made a few more than we did. I told our guys you tip your hat and you go on, so I couldn’t feel prouder of my group. The only thing I feel bad about is that I can’t coach this team anymore this season. I feel bad about that because I’ve got a great group of seniors and I’ve got kids I love to coach. You’re not ready for it to end, and these guys didn’t play like it was going to be over and we didn’t coach like it either, so it’s kind of like hitting a wall. It’s not what you expect, but you know it’s a part of it, but our guys battled their tails off so I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
“We played some great defense tonight. We gave ourselves a lot of chances. I couldn’t have been any more proud of our defensive kids, offensive kids, kicking team, and I feel like we’re a team that got better every week. There’s some things we would have liked to have had different in this game as far as execution and that, but that’s every week. You know, you’ve got to tip your hat to Melissa. They made plays. You look at how kids play, and our kids play hard. They’re coachable and they get after it and they’re a joy to coach. I’m very lucky to be the coach of the Gilmer Buckeyes.”
We asked Coach Turner if the Cardinals made any changes at halftime that surprised them. “No, not really. They just played well and we weren’t able to take advantage of the things we thought we could take advantage of. They made the plays. At times they made the play where we couldn’t make the block. They played pretty much what we thought. They just were able to execute it a little better than we were.”
We also asked the coach his thoughts about the tremendous talent the Buckeyes have coming up from the seventh grade on up that will continue to keep the Gilmer dynasty alive.
“Yeah, you know we’ve got good kids just like the ones that are graduating this year. They believe in the program, they believe in the process. Like I told these guys, they set a very high standard for the process. Each team is going to be measured by that. Hopefully, they’ll try to exceed it. We’re always excited about our kids in Gilmer.”
We ended our interview by asking Coach Turner if there was anything he would like to say to the Buckeye fans about their support in 2017. “Thank you. We’ve got the greatest fans in Texas. Our kids love playing for our fans. It’s a big part of our program, it’s our support, and we’ve got incredible support, and so we’re very grateful of course, in our community, Rick Albritton does a great job for us, our Superintendent, Brian Bowman, our Principal, our faculty and staff, Eric Gray, the band, twirlers, cheerleaders, Stars, the whole event. Football in Gilmer is an event. It’s a community event; it’s a lot more than just a football team. We’re very grateful for every part of that process and all the people that are in it. We take a lot of pride as coaches and players representing that. That hurts us. We feel like we’ve disappointed our fans as far as the loss. We feel that because we’re very proud of where we come from and who we are.”
So as we put another wonderful football season to bed, we have a lot to be thankful for, not only for this season, but as we look at what promise the future holds for Buckeye football in the 2018 season and the years to come. Merry Christmas, and a Blessed Holiday season to all the Army of Buckeyes, and to the 2017 team, thanks for all your hard work, exciting football you provided for our entertainment, and for the young men that you have become. We are all proud of you and your accomplishments, and proud to be Gilmer Buckeyes!