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By ELWYN HENDERSON
For the second time in four weeks the Gilmer Buckeyes and Pleasant Grove Hawks will meet again on the football field. The last time it was for the district championship and both teams knew they would continue into the playoffs regardless of the outcome but this time to the winner go the spoils and to the loser it’s time to hit the basketball gym.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday night at Sam Parker Field in Mount Pleasant for this quarterfinal matchup.
The Buckeyes will be a definite favorite to win the game, but Gilmer fans should not expect another 55-14 blowout victory like they saw in Texarkana on Nov. 5. This is an improved Hawks team. They played their sophomore quarterback sensation who missed all of the regular season after breaking his arm in the first game of the year for about 12 plays on offense against Quinlan Ford and don’t be surprised if they don’t start him at quarterback against the Buckeyes on Friday night. The Black Flag Defense can and will take care of the task at hand but he is much better than the young man the Bucks faced four weeks ago.
These teams know each other well so it won’t be hard for Gilmer to figure out how to counter the updated PG offense. Additionally, the Buckeyes have proven that they can score almost on anyone this season.
When we got ahold of Hawk Coach Josh Gibson via email and asked first of all if he was going to start his sophomore quarterback in the game since he played a few plays against Quinlan Ford last week.
“Ahkhari (Johnson) is back for us. He will definitely be on the field and make a big time contribution for us at multiple positions.”
We also asked him about the improvement of his defense since the playoffs began.
“Eight of the last nine games we have played really good defense (the lone game against Gilmer was our worst outing in several years). One thing that hurt us that game is having our best DL go down on the second play of the game. That limited us because we had to take another DE off the field (Lance Jackson) because we were left without a TE. Having 2 D1 players on the defensive line makes a huge IMPACT in the games. Not having those guys hurt. Having them both play, as well as adding Ahkhari Johnson to the DB unit has helped us GROW a lot too.”
We finished our brief visit by asking what the Hawks would have to do different in this game to turn the table and pull off an upset Friday night.
“We have to play a complete game. We gave up way too many big plays last game to Gilmer. Great athletes make BIG plays and Gilmer has a lot of those weapons on offense. Once again, we have to limit those big plays. We also have to create some turnovers. Offensively, we were not in rhythm at all last game. Credit that to a really good Gilmer defense. To win this game, we have to be more physical and more opportunistic.”
When we visited with Buckeye Coach Alan Metzel Monday we asked him in light of the sophomore quarterback getting some playing time at the position in the game last week if he was preparing as if he might start this week’s game.
“Absolutely, so whether he’s starting at running back or quarterback, you’re going to see him out there and he’s going to be playing. We’re fully expecting him to be a very important part of their offense. He’s playing safety now too so I could see them trying to put him on Rohan, quite frankly.”
We also wondered what changes he would have to make, if any, if he does start at quarterback in the game considering the talent he has.
“Well, they are doing two different looks because they’re still running what they had run but they also have these plays that are tailored to this young man that was injured. You’ve got to prepare for shotgun spread and you’ve got to prepare for the Wing-T under center, so Coach Edwards is having to mold all that together because you’ve got to be prepared. They’ll switch in the middle of a drive so you’ve got to be able to be versatile from that standpoint. That’s what all the hours up here this weekend were spent doing.”
We asked the coach if he agreed regardless of who the Hawks started at quarterback in the game that it would be a much closer game than the 55-14 Buckeye thrashing of PG in the District Championship Game on November 5th.
“I agree. You don’t get to Round 4 by accident. They may not be the bulldozers that they were for several years but they’re still very good and have a great program and they continue to improve and like we said, they’re adding some pieces in that are pretty athletic that are going to make them a definite potential difficult foe.”
We asked what the biggest point of emphasis would be this week in preparation for the Regional Final game, to which he replied, “I think for us, when you play a team and you beat them and have success like we did, I think it’s easy to have some type of relax mode, and I think the main focus is let’s don’t let this be a trap game. Let’s be present where our boots are. Let’s focus on this game like it’s the State Championship so there’s no talk about Celina. I don’t care; we’re not talking about that one bit. This is we are locked in for Round 4 and Pleasant Grove. Let’s be disciplined, let’s be the most physical team, let’s make plays and let’s take care of business this week. You saw six teams; six defending State Champions go out last week. Somehow or another, someone relaxed somewhere and that was the whole team meeting this morning. We’ve got to not take one day for granted and appreciate where we are, respect our opponent and live in the moment, live in the moment.”
We concluded by asking Coach Metzel if he had anything he wanted to say to the Army of Buckeyes about the game.
“Oh my goodness, the further you go the more advantage your fans are, I think because as we continue to build and continue to get more and more people to the games the emotion of the game is such that when you’ve got your fans out there yelling, defense, and it’s a big stop, I mean you feed off that. You score and everybody in the stands is going crazy and all that, that gives life and energy to your team and so that is like having, I know it’s cliché, the 12th man. You’ve got that extra element that gives you just enough to get the advantage on the other team so I would hope being as close as Mt. Pleasant we can just pack that place out where we’ve got people everywhere.”
Congratulations to this week’s Scout Team Players of the Week. The offensive winner was Felipe Rocha and the defensive winner was Brendan Webb. Thanks for your hard work, men!
For the second week in a row we have a game that requires a short drive. Please make the 30-mile trip up to Mount Pleasant and cheer the team on as they get another gold ball and move on to the 4A DII State Semifinals next week!