The third time proved to be the charm for the Gilmer Buckeyes Friday night at Mesquite Memorial Stadium in Mesquite in the Class 3A Division II Region II Semifinal game, as the Bucks clipped the wings of the Argyle Eagles by the score of 42-21. Argyle ended Gilmer’s season the previous two years, so it was sweet revenge for the Bucks and all Gilmer fans.
Early on Gilmer fans were biting their nails wondering if their beloved Buckeyes were going to be able to pull off the upset. Gilmer was ranked No. 8 coming into the contest and Argyle was ranked No. 3.
Things didn’t start out well for the Buckeyes. Chase Tate took the opening kickoff four yards deep in the end zone and returned it out to the Gilmer 24 after Argyle had won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. After being called for a false start on the first play of the possession, quarterback Tanner Barr and Tate had a problem with the handoff on a jet sweep. The play resulted in a 3-yard loss and a fumble which the Eagles recovered at the Gilmer 16.
It took only 36 seconds and two plays for the Eagles to take advantage of the takeaway. Chance Bode picked up 10 on the first play and Nick Ralston scored from the 6 on the next play. Cole Hedlund blasted the PAT and they Bux were behind 7-0 with only 53 seconds off the first quarter clock.
Hedlund kicked the ball out of the end zone and Gilmer set up shop at their 25. The offense managed to pick up two first downs, but then stalled out and Tanner Barr hit a 33-yard punt that died at the Eagle 15.
Brandon Boyzuick threw a 14-yard pass to Jon Pucctarello on the first play of the possession and hit him two plays later for a gain of 12, but after a false start and three straight incomplete passes, Ian Sadler hit a very short 22-yard punt that died at the Gilmer 43.
Tanner Barr and his offensive teammates got the engines humming, going on an 8-play, 57 yard scoring drive that took 2:52. Key plays in the drive were a 13-yard run by Kris Boyd, a 13-yard pass from Barr to Jaidon Parrish, and a 14-yard TD run by Parrish out of Gilmer’s version of the “Wildcat” formation. Pablin Olivares hit the extra point and the game was tied at 7-7 with 3:48 left in the opening stanza.
Cotton Katzen fair-caught Olivares’ pooch kick, and Argyle was back on the offensive at their 35. Boyzuick led his team on a 10-play, 42-yard drive that took 4:43 off the clock, but the Black Flag Defense stiffened, forcing a 40-yard field goal attempt by Hedlund. Josh Walker came around the right side of the defensive line and blocked the kick and Gilmer went back on offense.
Tate picked up 24 yards on a run on the first play of the possession, but the Eagle defense forced a punt on the next series. Barr hit a 33-yard kick to the Argyle 37 that was returned to the 45 by Sadler. Despite the excellent field position, the Black Flag gave up only five yards in three plays and forced a quick punt. The center’s snap went over Sadler’s head and when the dust cleared the Buckeyes set up shop on the Argyle 33.
It took only 2:11 and seven plays for the Bucks to take the lead for good. The score came on an 8-yard run by Barr with 6:07 left in the first half. Olivares PAT was good and Gilmer led 14-7.
Reese Thompson took the ensuing Olivares kick at his 18 and returned it out to his 39. Argyle gained 21 on a 3rd-and-21 rush by Ralston, but the Black Flag stiffened and forced a 32-yard field goal attempt by Hedlund. The Eagle center, apparently wanting make sure he didn’t snap the ball too high again, got off a low snap that got by Hedlund. He managed to cover the ball, but Gilmer dodged another bullet and took over on their 16.
The Gilmer offense picked up on first down, but Barr had to punt away on the next series. His 34-yard punt was taken by Sadler at the 36 and he returned the ball to his 46. On the first play of the possession, Trey Washington intercepted Boyzuick at the Gilmer 49, and the Bucks went back on offense.
Barr threw to Tate for a gain of eight on first down and then hit Patrick Finch for a gain of seven on the first two plays, but a last-ditch Barr pass was picked off by Hedlund at the Argyle 6 by Sadler as the first half came to a close with Gilmer leading 14-7.
Olivares’ pooch kick to begin the third quarter resulted in a fair catch at the Argyle 33. The drive was a quick three-and-out and Sadler hit a 32-yard punt to the Gilmer 37.
It took Barr and company only two plays and 16 seconds to move the 63 yards into the end zone and get on the scoreboard again. Boyd picked up eight on the first play and Barr scored on a 55-yard run on the next play. After Olivares’ successful kick, Gilmer led 21-7 with 10:26 left in the third quarter.
Olivares’ kick was fair- caught at the 37. The Black Flag rose to the occasion once again and forced gave up only eight yards on the first three plays of the possession. In a questionable call, the Eagles went for it on fourth down, but Bode was dropped for a 2-yard loss back at his 43 and Gilmer went on the offensive once again.
This time it took only 2:29 and six plays for the Buckeyes to move the 67 yards and get into the end zone for the fourth time on the evening. The score came on a 22-yard pass from Barr to Boyd with 6:45 left in the quarter. It appeared there was a problem on the point after, and Olivares’ kick hit the right upright and was no good, but Gilmer effectively had the game well under control, leading 27-7.
Sadler returned the Olivares kick from his 25 up to his 33 to begin the next Eagle possession. Realizing they HAD to score in order to keep ANY hope alive of coming back to win the game, Argyle went on an 11-play, 67-yard scoring drive that took 3:39. It was a grind it out possession, and the score came on a 5-yard run by Sadler with 3:06 left in the third quarter. Hedlund launched the extra point, and the score moved to 27-14.
Hedlund’s kickoff sailed out of the end zone and Gilmer took back over at their 25 after the touchback. The Bucks used a grind-it-out game on the possession, holding onto the ball for 4:31 and moving 58-yard in 12 plays, but on a 4th-and-1 from the 15, Walker was dropped for a 2-yard loss, and Argyle took over on downs at their 17.
The Black Flag forced another three-and-out and Sadler hit a 52-yard punt on fourth down that died at the Gilmer 34.
Determined to not come up short on this possession, the Bucks mounted a drive similar to their previous one. They moved the 66 yards to paydirt in 11 plays and took 4:28 off the clock before Barr found Parrish on a fourth down pass. The offense stayed in the game and lined up for a 2-point conversion. Josh Walker had no trouble getting into the end zone, and the Buckeye lead was 35-14 with 4:30 left in the game.
Brandon Boyzuick took the ensuing Olivares kick at his 17 and returned it to his 35, but fumbled the ball away to CJ Williams at that point, and Gilmer went right back on offense. It took only 1:28 and five plays for the Buckeyes to score their final TD of the game. The score came on a 6-yard run by Jamel Jackson with 3:14 left in the contest. Olivares was true on the point after, and the lead stretched out to 42-14.
The Olivares kick was fair-caught at the Eagle 32. Boyzuick led his team on a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive that took 2:26 against basically the second team defensive unit. The score came on a 3 yard run by Sadler with 48 seconds left in the game. The PAT by Hedlund was good and the Gilmer lead shortened to 42-21.
An Argyle onside kick was recovered by Justus Cheatham at the Buckeye 44. Barr took a knee out of the victory formation four yards behind the line of scrimmage on first down and the clock expired before another play was run.
Coach Jeff Traylor was ecstatic after the big win. “I’m just proud of them. That senior group, not a lot of people have given them a lot of credit through the years, but they’re a hard working group. Argyle had eight or nine seniors and we had 24 or 25. We just felt like our senior leadership was going to be the difference tonight and I really think it was, and some play by some extremely talented underclassmen.”
He was about the play of Tanner Barr. “He just makes good decisions. He’s a coach’s kid, he’s played at quarterback, had 11 interceptions last year at safety, he’s punted, and the moment’s never too big for Tanner.”
The coach also commented about the game Xavier Fluellen played. “He was big, he was really big. He’s been that way for years. The bigger the game, the more people notice, so I’m happy for Xavier.”
Everyone at the Buckeye Booster Club Luncheon this past Wednesday at Gilmer Country Club got the feeling leaving the meeting that the Buckeye mentor was confident of a victory in the game. We asked him if he just KNEW the Bucks would win. “You never know. I just felt good about our team right now; we’re kinda hot, and things are just going really well for us right now. That’s all I had a hunch of. I thought Argyle was very, very good; I just think we’re playing very good right now.”
One of the biggest reasons the Buckeyes are 12-1 and headed into the Regional Finals is the maturing and growth of the inexperienced offensive line Gilmer began the year with. They heard they were too small, too young, too inexperienced, etc., yet they have improved every week. We asked offensive line coach Kurt Traylor why this group has become so successful when there were many doubters at the beginning of the season.
“We’ve got kids that show up for work every day and they are in a successful program and know work. The kids I’m playing with right now except for Brady English and Dillon Sampson were my JV offensive line last year. Two of them could have probably come up and played a little bit, but I told them they had to play and they had to get better. It starts back then when those guys were unselfish and said ‘hey, I’ll play as a junior on the JV so I can get better and play my senior year on varsity, so you know, it starts there. I’m a grinder; I mean I’m gonna grind on them, and sometimes they look at me like I’m crazy, but they show up every day.
“Starting with Kilgore, we saw a little light there. Against Canton, we didn’t get better. We told the kids we didn’t get better that week, let’s get better against Atlanta. We did and we said let’s get better this week, and we got a heck of a lot better. We didn’t play well the second half against Henderson and we told the kids we have to get better next week. If we do that and continue to do that, three more wins and we’d have a State Championship. We’re just going to work to get better next week and play even better.”
The big win now sets up Round 2 of Gilmer vs. Henderson Friday night at Longview Lobo Stadium at 7 p.m. The Buckeye boss gave his thoughts about playing the District 16-3A District of Doom Lions again in the Region II Finals. “I’m really proud for Dickey (Meeks). I have a lot of respect for Coach Meeks. He’s a great human being and he’s done a great job his whole career. We’re just excited we get to go back and do this again with them. That’s a great thing for East Texas.”
Make sure to get to Longview and into your seat at the stadium early Friday. There is no doubt the place will be packed out. Gilmer fans made plenty of noise and showed up well in Mesquite. With less than 20 miles to travel for this big game, don’t miss it. It will be an all-out war, and this team has earned your attendance and support with their play, and they need you there more than ever from this point forward.