The Gilmer Buckeyes leaned heavily on this year’s team mantra, “TTP, Trust The Process” again Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer, and once again the Process came through, as the local charges walked off at game’s end with a 44-42 hard earned victory over the Spring Hill Panthers. The win moves the Bucks to 6-2 overall and 2-1 in District 7 4A Division II play, while the loss drops the Panthers to 5-3 and 0-3 in District play. Spring Hill has lost their three District games by a TOTAL of just 6 points, and is facing an uphill battle to make the post-season. Gilmer on the other hand, is now tied for second place with Pittsburg, a 28-10 loser to District-leading Pleasant Grove. Atlanta is tied with Gladewater at 1-2 in District play by virtue of their 34-16 win over the Bears, but holds the advantage for the fourth and final playoff position at this point. The Rabbs will hop into Gilmer this coming Friday night in a huge game for both teams.
Gilmer overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit and matched scores after taking the lead to ward off the stubborn Panthers. Every time it seems as though the Buckeyes were about to pull away, Spring Hill came right back and the game wasn’t decided until a Gilmer recovery of an onside kick attempt with 58.3 seconds left in the game following the final TD by the visitors.
Coach Matt Turner was proud to see his team get the victory in what has become a very evenly matched District this season. We asked his thoughts on the Panthers. “They’ve got a very good team. Coach Mercer’s done a tremendous job, and it was a hard fought game and we were expecting that, and that’s what we got.”
We asked the coach his thoughts about how important the fumble recovery at the Gilmer 1 by the Black Flag Defense was. “That’s huge. That’s why you’ve got to keep playing, one play at a time right down to the last play. You never know what play is going to turn the game. That’s what I tell our guys; don’t get too caught up on what’s happened or what’s going to happen. Play what’s right in front of you. Our guys did that and made a big play and got a turnover right there on the 1-yard line.”
We also asked how the coaches addressed the players when the offense held onto the ball for 5:00 and moved 59 yards in 15 plays, but came up short on fourth down at the visitor’s 2-yard line. “It’s the same thing we just said. It’s the next play. When you don’t get it done, you learn from it what you can and then you get on to the next play. You really don’t have the time to dwell on it. If you do, you’re probably not going to make the next play. It’s as simple as that. Our guys stayed with it and kept making plays. I just told them that’s what the difference was. We had the poise to just keep playing and making the next play, and we made them.”
We also asked Coach Turner about the dubious, and frankly, terrible calls on a couple of plays by the officials in the game, and as expected, he took the high road. “Well, I know the officials try to do the best they can, and they’re like us….I made some bad calls tonight too, so that’s just one of those deals, you know, sometimes they miss them, but they try to do the best job they can. We’re glad they’re a part of the game and it makes the game what it is. It’s just a part of it. It’s the human element. Coaches make mistakes, players make mistakes and officials make mistakes. It happens, but again, you can’t dwell on it too much. They’re doing what they can. If they miss it, they miss it. You’ve got to do something, and at that point we’ve got to make a play, so our guys did.”
We know it has been hard for Buckeye fans to see team after team run all over the field this season, but as a football fanatic, this writer had a theory about what has happened NOT ONLY to the Buckeyes, but to ALMOST EVERY team in the area this year, and we had to ask the Buckeye mentor his thoughts on our theory. It appears that with so many more teams having much more talented players than in recent years, it has become almost impossible for ANY defense to stop the spread offenses. Coach Turner shed light on that theory when we asked his thoughts on the matter and the defensive struggles that have resulted in close, high scoring games all over the area every Friday night.
“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to play defense, but they had two good players. Those two backs (Stoker and Tulpa) are good players. Those are as good of backs as we’ve seen all year, and we’ve seen good backs. They’re well-coached, they do a great job and the quarterback did a great job of handling their offense, making the reads, and they were handing the ball to two very good players. Anytime that’s the case, every play is a battle. We’re playing some pretty good people. They (Spring Hill) are a breath from being undefeated. They are 5-3 and they could be 8-0.”
“We’re not going to make excuses and belly-ache; we’ve got to go stop it. We’ve just got to try to find ways to limit it as best we can. People spread the ball out a lot more and you’ve got a lot of good athletes. The field is big when you have a lot of athletes out there. People have gotten more creative, but our job is to be as creative as we can to contain it, but yeah, there’s no doubt that the spread offense has made defending hard because you have to defend so much more. It’s a bigger field. People say the field hasn’t changed, and they’re right, but we all used to play in a box and we all wadded up in a ball and we controlled it and we weren’t in a hurry to play all that, so the games went by quicker. The clock ran more, and by nature the game wasn’t high scoring because you didn’t have as long a game. Half of the game was spent in the huddle by the two teams, so you know, yeah addressing the theory and all of that, playing faster and throwing the ball and spreading the field, all those things have made defending much more difficult. That’s why people do it! That’s why you see us in it.”
We finished our visit by asking the coach’s thoughts on Atlanta next Friday night. “We’ll learn from this one and get better from it, and then move forward. We don’t have time to worry about anything but us getting better next week, and the Atlanta Rabbits. We know they have a good team and we just have to get better and be ready.”
The game didn’t start off as well as the Bucks would have liked, as they won the coin toss and elected to receive, but after picking up two first downs were forced to punt the ball away on the third series on fourth down.
The visitors didn’t even pick up a first down on their first possession, as the Black Flag forced a three-and-out. Following a 43-yard punt by Efren Barcenas, Poppy Brown and the offense set up shop at their 44 and got things rolling. Bran Webb did all the damage in the 2-play, 56-yard drive that took a mere 23 seconds. He ran for 11 on the first play and the remaining 45 into the end zone on the next play. Adan Ibarra added the PAT and Gilmer led 7-0 with 7:44 left in the first quarter.
The visiting Panthers responded with a scoring drive of their own when they hit the field at their 30 following the ensuing kickoff. Gage White led his troops on a 9-play, 70-yard drive in 2:38. The score came on a 30-yard run by Kiante Stoker with 5:06 left in the quarter. Barcenas nailed the extra point and the game was tied 7-7.
Brown then led the Gilmer offense on a drive of 11 plays and 64 yards that took 3:01 off the clock and concluded when Ibarra added a 23-yard field goal with 2:05 left in the quarter, giving the home team a 10-7 lead.
Spring Hill came right back with a score of their own. They took the kick at their 30 and returned it to the 44, but they got a free 15 when the Buckeyes were called for a personal foul for grabbing the face mask. White set his offense up at the Gilmer 41 and they found the end zone in 2:05, moving the 41 yards in 8 plays. The score came on an 8-yard run by Stoker on the last play of the opening period. Barcenas was true on the extra point, and the visitors led 14-10.
The following Gilmer drive was the lengthy one already referenced that stalled out at the Panther 2. The stop by the Panther defense ignited their team and their fans, and White led his offensive unit down the field for what looked destined to be another score. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the drive ended on the fumble recovery at the Gilmer 1 we addressed earlier.
Gilmer managed two first downs following the big recovery, but then had to punt the ball back to Spring Hill. The Black Flag forced a three-and-out, and the Bucks got the ball back and mounted an impressive drive, but the half ended before they could get into the end zone.
The Panthers took the opening kickoff of the second half and picked up one first down on a drive that began on their 14 after a holding call. They picked up one first down, but then on the second play of the next series Stoker lost the handle and Juan Garcia recovered for Gilmer at the Panther 40.
Brown and company took 1:39 and 4 plays to move the 40 yards into the end zone and take the lead back. The score came on a 9-yard run by Webb with 9:32 left in the third quarter. Ibarra’s PAT kick was short, but Gilmer had a 16-14 lead.
After giving up one first down on the ensuing Panther possession, the Black Flag forced a punt, and the visitors were flagged with a 15-yard personal foul penalty that set the Gilmer offense up on the Spring Hill 33.
The offense went right back to work and found the end zone when Webb ran in from the 6 with 4:23 left in the third stanza. The score capped a 7-play drive that consumed 2:26 to cover the 33 yards. Ibarra added the extra point, and Gilmer was ahead 23-14, and never relinquished the lead the remainder of the contest.
Spring Hill was not about to upstaged following the Gilmer score though, as White led his charges on an 11-play, 77 yard drive that consumed 3:25. The score came on a 2-yard run by Tulpa with 58 seconds left in the quarter. Barcenas hit the point after, and the visitors were back within 2, at 23-21.
Gilmer bounced right back with a drive of 63 yards in 5 plays and 1:05, advancing the lead when Webb ran in from the 18. Ibarra’s PAT was true, and the lead was back to 9, at 20-21 with 11:53 left in the game.
Spring Hill responded with a 57-yard drive in 2:16 that took 7 plays before Tulpa ran in from the 11 with 9:37 left in the game. Barcenas hit the extra point, and the Gilmer lead was trimmed to 30-28.
It didn’t take Brown and the offense but 1:07 to respond in kind, as they moved 65 yards in just 4 plays. The big play was a 46-yard pass from Brown to Morgan Lusty on the first play of the possession. The score came with 8:30 left in the game when Brown ran in from the 1. Ibarra split the uprights on the extra point, and Gilmer led 37-28.
Once again, the determined Panthers struck right back, as they moved 72 yards in just 4 plays over 1:52 before closing the gap once again. The score came on a 63-yard run by Stoker with 6:38 left in the game. Barcenas was true once again on the PAT, the score was 37-35 in favor of the Buckeyes.
Brown and the offense responded once again also for what would be the final Gilmer score of the game when Brown ran into the end zone from the 12 with 1:44 left in the game, capping a drive of 4:54 that took 12 plays and covered 70 yards. Ibarra’s PAT was good, and Gilmer led 44-35.
The Panthers lit up the scoreboard for the final time on their next possession when White hit Morgan Bradford on a 22-yard TD pass with 58.3 seconds left in the game, ending a quick 3-play, 60-yard drive that took just 46 seconds off the clock. After Barcenas successfully converted the extra point, the Gilmer lead was trimmed to 44-42.
Then came the onside kick attempt that Gilmer recovered. Brown took a knee three times and ran out the clock preserving the victory.
We know the weather was cold and wet with rain for several minutes before kickoff, but it was VERY DISAPPOINTING to see the lack of attendance by the Gilmer fans at the game. We need every Buckeye fan in their seats for next Friday’s FINAL home game of the season to support the Buckeyes. It will be Senior Night, so make sure to be there regardless of the weather and support this team. They are playing their hearts out every week, and they deserve your support, so just BE THERE for them!!