The Gilmer Buckeyes took care of business on Senior Night Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer in the final home game of the 2017 season, downing the speedy Atlanta Rabbits 45-30. The win moves Gilmer to 7-2 on the year and 3-1 in District 7-4A Division II play, while the loss drops Atlanta to 4-5 and 1-3 in District. Depending on what happens next Friday night on the final night of the regular season, EVERY team in the District is still in the hunt for a playoff spot. While Spring Hill is 0-4 after falling at home to Pleasant Grove Friday night by a 48-31score, Gladewater and Atlanta are both 1-3, while Gilmer and Pittsburg are 3-1 and Pleasant Grove is 4-0. IF Spring Hill beats the Rabbits in Atlanta next Friday night and Pleasant Grove beats Gladewater at home, which is as close to a certainty as you can get, all three of those teams would end up at 1-4, and a point spread would determine the fourth place playoff entrant. The winner of the Gilmer-Pittsburg game will lock down second place, while Pleasant Grove will be the District winner by virtue of their 41-38 victory over the Buckeyes to open District play. That is just how even this district is this season.
On a night that seemed more like late summer than mid-fall, the Black Flag Defense came up big for the hometown crew, and Braydon Bates sealed the deal for the Buckeyes with Gilmer leading 38-30 when he intercepted an Andrew Samples pass at the Gilmer 7 and returned it 93 yards for a pick six, locking the door on the rabbit cage.
We asked Braydon about the play after the game and about next week’s regular season finale in Pittsburg on Friday night. “We were expecting the pass and so the ball came and there was an opportunity, and I took it to the house for our team on Senior Night. It (Pittsburg game) is a huge game. It puts us in our playoff seed, and we always want to win out in the District, so that’s our goal to finish out strong and prepare for the playoffs.”
The Black Flag looked much stronger Friday night than they did a week earlier, and they were playing a team that had a good bit more speed than the swift Spring Hill Panthers had a week earlier. While they have had some struggles at times this season, the Black Flag came up with several big plays during the game against the Rabbs. In fact, Red Jones also intercepted Samples in the first Atlanta possession and returned the pick 21 yards, setting up the first Gilmer score, a field goal. In addition, the defense forced a three-and-out on three occasions on the night, recovered a fumble on the last Atlanta possession, and blocked two kicks. Buckeye fans need to stick with the Black Flag and encourage them as we begin the playoff stretch in two weeks. They are making big plays when the team needs them most!
In our visit with Head Coach Matt Turner after the big win, we asked his thoughts about how tough the Rabbits were. “Yeah, they’re talented and they can run. The quarterback is a good runner as well, and the backs are good backs, and they just played. They are good offensively and they give you trouble. They do some different things to stress you. They’ve got speed, and if they can get you out there on the flank, they get you. We got big turnovers, we got stops in the red zone, we stopped two or three 2-point tries, blocked two kicks, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, so our special teams were unbelievable and our kids just played hard. It’s a tribute to our seniors. I told them that’s what they created. They’re just a bunch of young men who are unwilling to give in.”
We also asked the Buckeye boss about how big the 90-yard TD kickoff return by Bran Webb was in determining the final outcome. “That was huge. Anytime you score a touchdown on special teams that’s a big play. We work very hard on that team and Olan Johnson kind of coordinates that team. We felt like if we go the kind of kick that they were giving us we had a shot, and man we nailed it, so I was really pleased with our guys’ execution on that. It was a big, big play in the game. That’s the difference in the game, really.”
We asked about the Bates pick six as well. “That was an unbelievable play by Braydon and great pressure by the guys up front. Braydon made a great play on the ball and then took it the rest of the way and the guys did a great job, as far as when the ball was turned over, turning into blockers and escorting him down the sideline, so I mean it was a huge play by the Black Flag. Our guys do a great job when the ball gets turned over. They think score. That’s something we’ve worked on and our guys have really embraced, so when we pick a ball, we think we can score with it. For us, that’s a scoring opportunity. We’re a little upset when we don’t score.”
We ended our visit asking about how big the season finale against the Pirates would be. “At this point they are ALL going to be huge. You’re in the playoffs now in reality, and you want to play well every week. That’s good because that’s what we do every week anyway. We’ve tried to build every week and I think we’ve done that. I think our guys have done that and our coaches have done that. We keep getting better and that’s important. It’s that time of year, and the people we play keep getting better. You know they’re (Pittsburg) talented. The quarterback is an athlete, they’ve got a good running back, several receivers that are good, defensively they can run and tackle, and they’ve been scoring points on people. They’re a good football team and Coach (Brad) Baca does a good job. We’ll have to play. It will be 48 minutes. We’ve got to line up and go, that’s it, so we’ll prepare for that. We’re not going to be surprised that we’ll have to make a stand late in the game.”
After the Red Jones interception, Poppy Brown and the offense moved 45 yards in 9 plays and took 2:44 before the Rabbit defense forced a 22-yard field goal by Adan Ibarra with 6:04 left in the first quarter, giving the Bucks a 3-0 lead.
The visitors came right back and went on a 5-play, 79-yard drive that took 2:20 off the clock and took their first lead when Samples tossed a 42-yard TD pass to Jawan King with 3:44 left in the opening quarter. The PAT kick by Fernando Campos was no good, and Atlanta led 6-3.
It took only 1:55 and 6 plays for Brown and the offense to cover 56 yards and take the lead back. Poppy ran in from the 2 with 1:49 left in the opening frame, and after Ibarra made the extra point, Gilmer was back on top 10-6.
The teams were both forced to punt on their next two possessions, but then the Rabbits took the lead back when Samples ran in from the 2 at the conclusion of an 8-play, 53-yard drive that took 3:23 off the second quarter clock. The score came with 3:43 left in the half. Once again the kick was no good, and the score was 12-10 in favor of Atlanta.
Brown led the offense right back down the field in the opposite direction, and Bran Webb capped the drive with a 14-yard TD run with 1:21 left in the first half. The drive was 11 plays, 71 yards and took 2:22. Ibarra’s PAT was good and Gilmer went back on top 17-12. Atlanta mounted a promising drive, but Chris Hollis knocked a pass away from the intended receiver on the last play of the half.
The third quarter began with the big Webb 90-yard score on the kickoff with 11:46 left in the third quarter. Ibarra was once again true on the extra point, and it appeared the Bucks were in solid control.
The Rabbs quelled any thought they might go away on their ensuing possession, as they mounted a lengthy 13-play, 71-yard drive that consumed 4:47. They actually got into the end zone on the fifth play of the possession, but were called for holding. The score came on a 1-yard run by Samples with 6:59 left in the quarter. A 2-point conversion attempt was no good, but the Gilmer lead narrowed to 24-18.
They Buckeyes picked up one first down on their next possession, but after making a hard hit on Brown, the pigskin fell to the ground and the Rabbits recovered. Fortunately, the Black Flag prevented any damage from the fumble, but after forcing a Gilmer three-and-out, Atlanta set up on their 34, and after being called for holding on the first play, King ran 76 yards into the end zone for a score that tied the game at 24-24. Once again, a 2-point try was no good.
The Bux came right back down the field in just 1:30 seconds, moving 77 yards in 8 plays, and scored with just 6.6 seconds left in the quarter when Webb ran in from the 1. Ibarra’s kick was good, and Gilmer was back in front, 31-24.
Once again though, the Rabbits took little time in closing the gap, as they scored on the first play of their ensuing possession. Samples threw a 67-yard TD pass to Austin Brown that took just 17 seconds from beginning to end. The 2-point conversion was once again no good, and the Buckeyes still had the lead, 31-30 with 11:49 left in the game.
After forcing a Buckeye punt and picking up one first down on their next possession, the Rabbits took a chance with a fake punt on fourth down, and the Black Flag was ready as Samples was dropped for an 8-yard loss and Gilmer went back on offense at the Rabb 44.
Brown led the offense on the 44-yard TD drive in just 5 plays and 1:19. He did the honors himself, running in from the 1 with 4:29 left in the game. Ibarra was successful on the PAT, and the lead advanced to 38-30.
Atlanta picked up two first downs before Bates got the pick six on a fourth down play, putting the Bucks up 44-30 before Ibarra added what would be the final point, giving Gilmer the 45-30 lead that would be the final score.
The Rabbits picked up one first down with a 31-yard pass before completing an 8-yard pass that fumbled and recovered by the Black Flag at the Gilmer 31. Brown came in and took a knee twice from the victory formation, running out the clock and gaining the victory.
We want to encourage Gilmer fans to make the short road trip up Hwy 271 North this coming Friday night. This bunch of young men is giving it everything they have on every single play, and they deserve your support. Get behind them and then get ready for a deep playoff run once again in 2017!!