By ELWYN HENDERSON
Just as expected, the Gilmer Buckeyes took care of the Van Vandals at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler Friday afternoon, defeating the Vandals by the score of 56-35 in the Class 4A DII Region II Semifinal matchup. The win moves Gilmer to 12-1 on the season and on to Round 4 where they will face the Pleasant Grove Hawks, a 17-7 winner over Quinlan Ford in a game played at Sam Parker Field in Mt. Pleasant Friday afternoon. The loss drops Van to 12-1 and ends their football season and sends them into the gym for basketball season.
The Gilmer-Pleasant Grove Region II Final contest will feature a rematch of the district championship game 3 weeks ago that saw Gilmer trounce the Hawks in Texarkana by the score of 55-14 will be played at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3 at Sam Parker Field in Mount Pleasant. Gilmer will be the home team and will wear black.
Van won the coin toss and elected to receive to begin the game. Jose Hernandez kicked away to the Van 22 and Alex Zifer returned the ball up to the Van 48.
Jackson Rainey led the Van offense on a 7-play, 52-yard drive that consumed 2:30 off the clock. The drive ended with a 1-yard run by Garrett Florey with 9:30 left in the first quarter. Eli Hartman added the PAT and Gilmer trailed early 7-0.
On the ensuing kick Rohan Fluellen took the ball at the Gilmer 19 and returned it to the Gilmer 29 and the Buckeyes went on the offensive for the first time.
After an incomplete pass on the first play Tennison hit Parker Gilow for a 71-yard TD pass with 9:02 left in the quarter. Hernandez added the extra point and the game was tied 7-7. The drive took just 22 seconds off the clock.
The Black Flag forced a three-and-out and after a 9-yard punt the Buckeyes took over in excellent position on the Van 27. Gilmer turned the ball over on downs after picking up just 6 yards on 4 plays.
The Black Flag forced another three-and-out on the next Vandal possession and after a 28-yard punt Gilmer took over on offense at their 40. Van’s defense rose to the occasion and Gilmer punted away again, setting up for their next possession on their 29 after a Cody Guidry punt.
Rainey led the Vandals down the field down to the Gilmer 9. From that point Cadon Tennison made a great defensive play in the end zone on a pass intended for Luca Kozhev. He tipped the ball and Tyson Wilson dove for the ball and intercepted it in the end zone and Gilmer took over on their 20.
Tennison ran for 10 yards on the first play but a bad pitch 2 plays later resulted in a fumble and a 14-yard loss and the Bucks ended up punting the ball away on 4th down.
Following the Hernandez kickoff the Vandals took over on their 31 yard line. They were facing a 4th and 1 and Rainey ran 60 yards into the end zone with 9:13 left in the half to put Van up 13-7. Hartman added the extra point and Van led 14-7. The drive was 4 plays, 69 yards and took 1:12.
The Buckeyes began their next drive at their 35 and drove the 65 yards in 6 plays over 2:03. The drive ended with a 31-yard pass from Tennison to Parker Gilow with 7:10 left in the half. Hernandez added the extra point and the game was 14-14.
Van picked up one first down on their next possession and then the Black Flag forced a punt on the next series and Gilmer set up shop on their 40.
Tennison led the offense on a 60-yard TD drive that took 5 plays and 58 seconds. The score came on a 27-yard pass from Tennison to Jay Rockwell with 4:04 left in the half. Hernandez was true on the PAT kick and Gilmer led 21-14.
Van followed with a three-and-out and then Gilmer punted down to the Van 1 after picking up one first down on the possession.
The Vandals managed a first down and the clock ran out to end the first half with Gilmer leading 21-14.
Gilmer got the ball to begin the second half. Zifer kicked away to the Gilmer 26 and Keith Rockwell returned the ball to the Gilmer 40 where the offense set up shop.
On the third play of the possession Tennison appeared to throw the ball after a huge rush but the officials ruled the play as a fumble and Van got the ball at the Gilmer 26 with 10:36 left in the third quarter.
The Vandals cashed in on fourth down when Rohan Fluellen tipped a ball intended for Luca Kozhev and Kozhev was in the right place at the right time and caught the ball at the 2 and ran into the end zone for the TD with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes responded by moving 61 yards in 4 plays over 1:24 and regained the lead. The score came on a 38-yard pass from Tennison to Jay Rockwell, his second of the game. Hernandez added the extra point and Gilmer led 28-21.
The Black Flag forced a three-and-out and after a 1-yard shanked punt the Bucks were in excellent position with the ball on the Van 23.
The Bucks managed only 2 yards in three plays, but on 4th down Tennison hit Jay Rockwell for a 21-yard score, his third of the game, with 5:47 left in the quarter. Hernandez nailed the
PAT and Gilmer led 35-21. as The drive w 23 yards and took just 51 seconds.
On their next possession Van fumbled the ball away and Omero Orona scooped it up and ran 28 yards into the end zone for another Gilmer TD with 5:30 left in the third quarter. The Hernandez kick was good and Gilmer advanced to 42-21.
Knowing they had to make something happen quickly and they responded with a 5-play, 54-yard TD drive that took 1:59. The score came with 3:41 left in the quarter on a 4-yard TD run by Zifer. The extra point kick was good and the Gilmer lead shrunk to 42-28.
Gilmer responded with a 3-play, 49-yard drive that took just 1:08 off the clock. The TD came with a 34-yard run by Ladaylon Jackson with 2:33 left in the third quarter. Hernandez was good on the extra point and the Buckeyes moved the lead to 49-28.
Van’s ensuing drive began on their 26 yard line. They moved to the Gilmer 37 and the Black Flag forced an incomplete pass on 4th down and Tennison brought the offense back out to begin on their 40.
Tennison led the offense on a 5-play, 60-yard drive that took just 1:51 off the clock. The score came on a 37-yard pass to Rohan Fluellen with 9:31 left in the game. The extra point was good and the blowout was officially in place with Gilmer doubling up Van 56-28.
The Vandals began their next drive on their 27. Rainey led his offense into the end zone against a Black Flag with a lot of reserves in place. The drive was 8 plays, 73 yards and took 2:23. The extra point was good and the Gilmer lead was 56-35.
The Vandals kicked onside but Orona recovered at the Gilmer 47. The Buckeyes managed one first down and then had to punt on the second series, setting Van up at their 3.
Rainey moved his team down the field against almost total reserves but the Buckeyes held and Gilmer took over on downs at their 31 and ran the clock out to garner the 56-35 victory.
Coach Alan Metzel was very pleased with the play of his team and the outcome.
“We knew coming in that they would be a pretty good challenge and they showed that today. I thought early we just misfiring just slightly and once we kind of got some of that ironed out then we started hitting the plays that we needed to hit. Brandon just did an exceptional job back there; picked up several snaps that were low and extended the plays and put the ball on people.”
We asked the coach his thoughts on Jay Rockwell’s three TD receptions in the game.
“Hey, he came up big. You know, I am so proud of Jay. Jay came over and he has become a Buckeye. He’s a teammate with these guys. They love him. He’s let go of a lot of stats in the past earlier games and now things are coming his way and of course you can see his talent.”
We also pointed out that the Buckeyes really cleaned up the penalties from the Caddo Mills game a week ago.
“No doubt, no doubt, and we felt like that wasn’t a good example of who we are and so I thought the guys played well today. That was an impressive job. As much as anything, I think it was keeping our focus staying level and intense instead of being too emotional.”
We mentioned that it is obvious the Gilmer opponents are mouthing every game to try to get to the Buckeyes emotionally and they are succeeding at times and he said, “That is correct. It is part of growing up. It’s just part of becoming a man to be able to handle it the right way and stay inside the whistles and some guys have a little harder time with that than others. Some are on the growth progression and are at different places. I promise we’re working it!”
We concluded by pointing out that even though his team had a blowout win over Pleasant Grove in the District Championship Game that we were sure he wouldn’t expect the same lopsided win in the Regional Championship Game.
“Oh no, oh no, they’ll come and they’ll play their A game. There’s no doubt about it. I know they’ve got their young man back who got earlier in the year. He’s not quarterbacking, I think he’s playing running back but he gives them some more athleticism. We know, it’s Round 4, and when you’re in Round 4 you’ve got to play at an extremely high level, so we understand what’s ahead.”
We also visited with quarterback Brandon Tennison and asked him what it meant to hang 56 points on a 12-0 team.
“It feels good. We came into this game thinking it would be a tough game and it was in the beginning. After we scored a couple of times we kind of just ran off away from them.”
We also asked if he agreed the only team that could stop the Buckeyes was the Buckeyes, and he responded, “That’s what Coach Metzel tells us all the time; we’re not playing the other team, we’re playing ourselves.”
We concluded by asking him his thoughts on playing the Hawks for the second time in four weeks and he replied, “We’ve just got to do our job and we’ll be fine.”
We want to congratulate the Army of Buckeyes for turning out en masse at Rose Stadium and cheering the Bucks on to the next round. We need you in attendance next Friday as we take care of the Hawks again!
Stats By MARK SKINNER