The Gilmer Buckeyes pulled out an eleventh hour comeback 42-41 victory over the Van Vandals at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer Friday night, scoring twice in the game’s final 7 minutes to snag the 1-point victory, and moving their record to 2-0 on the young season.
As everyone knows, the Buckeye mantra for the 2018 season is “Whatever It Takes”, and that is exactly what the team did, never getting down or giving up at any point during the game. Of course, we can say that about the Bucks every year. Champions have heart, and although this team has a lot of growing to do and has plenty of improving they will most certainly do, Gilmer fans have seen these photo finishes many times over the Buck Dynasty years, and always know their team will find a way to win.
We asked Coach Matt Turner his thoughts on his team’s effort and finding a way to win. “It just comes down to love. When you love people and love each other you’re just going to play hard and you’re going to keep playing, and you’re not going to worry about the score. When you do that, it doesn’t guarantee you anything but that you always have the chance. I hope that’s what our guys learned. You’re going to get knocked down in life, there’s going to be tough times, not going to look great, but you just keep loving and trusting and doing the right things, you know, and sometimes you find a way, and our guys found a way. Great leadership by our seniors and our captains. They never flinched, not once. They showed great mental toughness against a great opponent. Jared Moffatt and his team, you talk about a great team, they played so well and clean and first class, and they showed every bit the character our kids did. It was a great high school football game. What an honor to be at a game, or even watch a game like that. How would you not be a high school football fan after watching that? You’d want to be out here every Friday night watching that kind of stuff. That’s as good as it gets.”
We also discussed the heroics of the Black Flag Defense on the last two plays of the game in preventing a Van score and sealing the win. “Defense just plays in the down that they are in. You can’t worry about all the other snaps, but we stripped the ball on the 1, we made the big play at the end down there on the 2, you know, you’ve got to play the whole field and you’ve got to play the whole game. Defense on the 6-inch line is just as important as defense on the 20. Our guys trust that, they believe it, and they keep playing. When you do that, you’re always going to give yourself a chance. Coach Barr and the defensive staff do a great job. Our kids play the downs they’re in. When you do that, you’re always in a position to make a play on defense. You’re always one turnover or one big play away. You’ve got to live in that mindset. Our coaches do a great job of that and our players do a good job of trusting that and doing it.”
A big load was put on sophomore quarterback Mason Hurt. He was forced to go the distance as the signal caller due to back spasms suffered by Cade Camp. We asked Coach Turner his thoughts on the gutsy determination and play of Hurt.
“Injury is always an unfortunate thing and you feel sick about it. We felt terrible for Cade, but Mason did a great job of stepping in and he was a pretty cool customer tonight. He didn’t try to overdo too much. He’s got some things to work on, but for having to take the whole load, he did a good job in a game that had a little environment to it.” After the Buckeyes took the lead with 1:18 to go, they were called for a personal foul near midfield for hitting a Van player out of bounds that was obviously a terrible call. The Vandal player was still in bounds by over a foot. We asked the coach his thoughts on the call, and he took the high road, as most coaches do.
“I don’t like to comment on those. Those guys have a hard job. They’ve got to make split-second decisions and they’re trying to keep the safety of the kids always first. That’s how they call it. They don’t make any bones about it. They do a great job, they’re very professional and so that is just part of the game. Whether we agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter. It’s their job to make that call and my job to coach the Gilmer Buckeyes. That’s what I do, and I let them do their job, and we’re glad they do it. It wouldn’t be a game without the officials, so we’ve got to have officials, and we had good ones. Those guys are pros, and I’ll be honest. My wife always asks me if after I retire if I would want to be an official and I told her not a chance! We don’t worry about it. We can’t.”
We ended our visit asking the coach about how good it felt to be 2-0 so far. “More than anything I’m looking at the performance and how we’re playing. I like our leadership and I like how we’re playing. I know we can be a lot better in some things, which is exciting. I don’t think we’ve played our best football, by any means. We’ve played some pretty good teams, and I’m not saying that we haven’t played some really good football. We’re growing and we’re still learning and that’s what I looking at. We’re getting better at different phases of the game. We’ve got to watch the video. There’s things we’ve got to get better at, but we grew as a team and people grew individually and became a little stronger in that way. We’ll watch the video and get to coaching and try to make us a little better next week.”
The Bucks had adversity early on, as after going three-and-out after taking the opening kickoff, as Elijah Rankine took a Lucas Enloe punt at his 26 and returned it all the way down to the Gilmer 41. The Vandals wasted little time in finding the end zone for the first score of the game, as they took just 4 plays and 45 seconds to get their first TD. The score came on a 3-yard run by Marcos Orozco with 9:47 left in the first quarter. The PAT by Rankine was good and Van led 7-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, McKinney kicked onside and Orozco recovered the ball at the Gilmer 39. On the first play of the possession, Jayton Moffatt hit Rankine for a 39-yard scoring strike that took just 7 seconds off the clock. McKinney was true again on the extra point, and Buckeye fans sat in total silence not believing what was happening. Gilmer went three-and-out again on their next possession, but the Black Flag forced a punt after Van garnered one first down on their next possession, and after a 38-yard punt down to the Buckeye 3, Hurt and company took the field with fire in their eyes. The offense moved the 97 yards in just 4 plays and took only 1:09 off the clock. The score came on an 82-yard pass and run from Hurt to Dylan Fluellen. Adan Ibarra hit the extra point, and the Bucks trailed 14-7 with 4:59 left in the quarter.
The Black Flag rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out of their own, and the Van punt traveled only 26 yards and the Buckeyes went on the offensive again from their 35 yard line.
Hurt led his unit on a 2:33 drive for the 65 yards over 9 plays, and he threw a 19-yard TD Pass to Tra Fluellen with1:15 left in the opening stanza. Enloe kicked the PAT, and the score was tied, 14-14.
The Buckeyes decided to take a play out of the Vandal playbook, and Tra Fluellen recovered the onside kick at the Van 44, setting the offense up in great field position. It took 2:40 and 8 plays for Gilmer to take their first lead of the night. Darryl Bush ran in from the 3 with 10:35 left in the first half. Ibarra connected on the extra point and Gilmer led 21-14.
Javonta Thomas took Enloe’s kick at his 11 and returned it to his 33, and the visitors went on another scoring march of their own. The drive was 5 plays, 67 yards, and took 2:05. The score came on an 11-yard pass from Liam Nielson to Ethan Robinson with 8:30 left in the half. Rankine kicked the PAT, and the game was tied 21-21. Gilmer went three-and-out on their next possession, and following an Enloe punt, they set up at their 31 and were end zone bound again. They moved the 69 yards in 6 plays and took 3:37 off the second quarter clock. The score came on a 38-yard run by Rankin with 3:06 left in the half. Ronnie McPherson blocked the PAT attempt, but Van took the lead back at 27-21. After Tra Fluellen returned the ensuing kick from his 27 to his 46, Hurt led the offense on a score to take the lead back before halftime. The drive was a 5-play, 54-yard march. A 30-yard pass to Tra set the ball on the Van 5, and Darryl Bush ran into the end zone from there with 1:54 left in the half. Ibarra booted the extra point, and Gilmer was back up 28-27.
Van received the kick to open the second half and Thomas dashed from his 5 up to the 30, but an illegal block moved the ball back to the 14. Jayton Moffatt milked the clock and drove his team almost the length of the field, but Tra Fluellen stripped the ball and the Black Flag made their second-most important play of the night, recovering at the Gilmer 1. Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived, as the Vandal defense forced another three-and-out. Enloe nailed a beautiful 58-yard punt down to the Van 32, but Nielson took 5:02 of the clock and drove his team the 68 yards in 10 plays. The drive ended with a 17-yard TD pass from Nielson to Robinson with 2:21 left in the third quarter. McKinney split the uprights on the extra point, and the Vandals had the lead back, 34-28.
After forcing another Gilmer three-and-out, Van set up shop on their 38. Moffatt led his team the 62 yards in just 1:57 and only 6 plays before the visitors scored what would be their final TD of the night with 11:28 left in the game. The score came on a 12-yard run by Moffatt. McKinney’s extra point was good, and Van fans were certain their team had nailed the coffin shut. That would be the case with most teams, but they were facing the Mighty Bucks AND the Army of Buckeyes. As Coach Turner said in our post-game interview, the team never flinched and took care of business from that point on. They did go three-and-out on their next possession, and the Vandals were moving again, but the Black Flag forced three incomplete passes after a 3:28 drive, and Hurt and the offense were in business at their 20 with 7:04 left in the game.
The offensive line played lights out and the offensive machine moved the 80 yards in 10 plays that took 3:13 off the clock. They found the end zone when Bush ran in from the 2 with 3:51 left in the game, for his third score of the night. Ibarra was successful on the extra point try, and Gilmer was back within 6, but the clock was not on their side, so the pulled the onside kick again, and Tra Fluellen recovered it at the Van 49.
The Bucks took 7 plays and 2:33 to move the 49 yards to tie the game at 41. The score came on a 5-yard TD run by Bran Webb with 1:18 left in the game. Ibarra was perfect on the extra point, and Gilmer led 42-41, but everyone in the stadium knew Van would not go down without a fight, and indeed, they didn’t.
The Vandals began their final possession at their 27. Thanks to the horribly bad call near midfield, the drive was extended, leaving the outcome in doubt. Moffatt led his team on three first downs, and following a pass interference call on Gilmer, the visitors were down to the Gilmer 7. Moffatt ran around the left side for what looked to be a certain score, but the Black Flag came up big and forced him out of bounds short of the 1. On what would be the game’s final play, instead of opting for what could have been a game-winning field goal, Moffatt went back to pass and the Buckeyes came with a blitz and dropped him for a 14-yard loss, preserving the hard fought and well deserved victory. The team exploded with excitement and Gilmer fans breathed a sigh of relief, thankful for the Black Flag’s heroic last stand.
Gilmer travels to Paris next Friday night for a 7:30 PM kickoff against the Wildcats. Paris is 0-1 on the season, losing to Pleasant Grove at home in week 1. Their game Friday night was cancelled due to inclement weather, and is not scheduled to be played. Make sure to make the trip up Highway 271 next Friday and support your Gilmer Buckeyes. They played their hearts out for the fans and definitely deserve your support!
(Game stats courtesy of Mark Skinner)