By ELWYN HENDERSON
The Gilmer Buckeyes and Pleasant Grove Hawks met on the gridiron for the second time in four weeks at Sam Parker Field in Mount Pleasant Friday night for the Class 4A DII Region 2 Championship.
As Buckeye fans remember well in the game in Texarkana on Nov. 5, Gilmer blasted the Hawks 55-14 to claim the District Championship for the second year in a row. Everyone knew this game would be a much closer game since sophomore PG sensation Ahkhari Johnson was back, along with two defensive linemen who were not in their usual positions for the game on Nov. 5. One of the linemen got hurt on the second play of the game and the other had to move to tight end due to injury.
Nonetheless, there was no doubt going into the game that Gilmer had more athletes and more depth than the Hawks did, but it was expected the game would be a lot closer. The Hawks improved every week during the playoffs after the loss to Gilmer.
The game did not disappoint. Gilmer won the game as expected, by a much closer score than four weeks earlier, 36-15. The Hawks never quit, but Gilmer got out to a 29-0 lead before the Hawks ever got on the scoreboard, so the outcome was never in doubt.
Gilmer won the toss and elected to receive to begin the game. Enrique Rios kicked the ball onside to the Gilmer 44 and the ball went out of bounds. After a 5-yard penalty the Buckeyes took over on their 49.
It took just 3 plays for Brandon Tennison to lead the offense the 51 yards into the end zone for the first Gilmer TD of the game. After Ashton Haynes gained 1 yard on the first play Tennison hit Jay Rockwell for a gain of 6 before he concluded the drive with a 44-yard TD toss to Parker Gilow with 10:54 left in the first quarter. Jose Hernandez added the PAT and Gilmer led 7-0. The drive was 1:06.
Thanks to a personal foul against the Hawks on the TD pass Gilmer kicked off from the PG 45. Hernandez kicked onside and the Hawks recovered at their 35 to begin their first possession.
Jarret Halter began the game at quarterback and Johnson began as a wide receiver. Halter moved his team down to the Gilmer 11, but on a 4th down pass, the ball fell incomplete and the Bucks went back on offense with the turnover on downs. The drive was 10 plays and took 6:39 off the clock.
Tennison led his unit the 89 yards to paydirt once again. The drive was 12 plays and took 4:23 off the clock. Tennison connected with Parker Gilow again for the touchdown from 19 yards out. Michael Colbert ran into the end zone for a 2-point conversion out of the swinging gate formation and Gilmer led 15-0.
After a 3-yard return on the kick the Hawks took over on their 30 yard line. They kept the ball for 8:58 and moved to the Gilmer 2 and had a first and goal. The Black Flag Defense rose to the occasion for the second time in the game. The allowed -1 yard on 3 plays and on 4th down they forced a fumble and Gilmer took over on their 23.
The Buckeyes took only 4 plays to get into the end zone for the third time in the game. The score came on a 62-yard pass from Tennison to Rohan Fluellen with 1:52 left in the first half. Hernandez added the extra point and Gilmer advanced the lead to 22-0. The 77-yard drive took only 56 seconds.
Following the ensuing kickoff the Hawks started their next drive at their 28. They managed one first down and then the Black Flag shut the door forcing a punt. Gilmer got the ball back at their 11 with 4 seconds left in the half. Tennison came in and took a knee out of the victory formation and the first half ended with Gilmer in complete control, up 22-0.
Gilmer kicked off to the Hawks to begin the second half. Hernandez’s kick went down to the PG 30 and the ball was returned to the 35.
Johnson went in at quarterback and the Black Flag was ready. They forced a three-and-out and Gilmer took over for their first possession of the second half at their 21.
The PG defense forced a punt after the Buckeyes managed one first down on the possession due to a holding penalty against Gilmer and they took over on their 47 after a 14-yard punt.
The moved the ball down to the Gilmer 31 where the ball went back over to Gilmer following a drive by PG that consumed 6:07 of clock time and 10 plays. The Bucks took over on downs following a 9-yard loss on 4th down.
Tennison led the offense on a quick 69-yard TD drive in just 3 plays and 45 seconds. The score came with 2:20 left in the third quarter as Ta’Erik Tate took a short pass from Tennision and sped 69 yards to the end zone. Hernandez added the extra point and the blowout was officially underway with Gilmer leading 29-0.
The Hernandez kick was returned to the Hawk 40. Halter moved the Hawks the 60 yards into the end zone in 3 plays and 1:28. Rios added the extra point and the Gilmer lead was cut to 29-7 with 54 seconds left in the quarter.
Knowing they had to get the ball back PG and make something happen quickly, the Hawks tried another onside kick. Geramiah Noble caught the kick at the Gilmer 48 and returned it down to the PG 32.
Tennison led the offense on another scoring drive that consisted of 4 plays and exactly 1 minute. The score came on a 10-yard run by Ladaylon Jackson with 11:52 left in the game. Hernandez added the extra point and the Gilmer lead moved to 36-7.
The Hawks began their next drive at their 18 following the kickoff with Halter remaining at quarterback.
They held the ball for 13 plays and 7:03 and the drive ended when Rohan Fluellen intercepted a 4th down pass at the Gilmer 4 and the Black Flag held in the Red Zone for the 3rd time.
On the second play of the possession Ashton Haynes was dropped for a safety in the end zone and the score moved to 36-9.
On the free kick from the 20 the returner muffed the ball and recovered it and returned it to the 27.
Halter led the Hawks into the end zone in 2:40 and took 7 plays to move the 73 yards. They went for 2 and the pass was picked off by Tate.
PG kicked onside again and Parker Gilow recovered the ball at the Gilmer 42. The Buckeyes ran two plays and the clock expired, moving the Buckeyes on to the Class 4A DII State Semifinals on Friday night, Dec. 10, att 7 p.m. at Children’s Health Stadium in Prosper. Gilmer will be the home team again for the game.
With the win Gilmer moves to 13-1 on the season and Pleasant Grove ends their average season at 8-6 and will hit the gym and begin basketball season.
Coach Alan Metzel was ecstatic when we talked with him after the game. We asked his thoughts about the tremendous job the Black Flag Defense did in the end zone, stopping the Hawks three times out of four trips they made.
“You know, to me that’s your resolve. That’s grit. What do you have inside, your fortitude. I’m using all these words to say the same thing, but it’s exciting to see your guys rally. You look at each other and guys on the sideline are going ‘we got ‘em, we got ‘em’.” We’ll make the next play. That’s the mentality that you’re always preaching and when you see a team and that clicks, that is just so exciting and I’m so proud of the guys, so proud!”
We also wanted his thoughts on the fantastic performance and execution by the offense in the game.
“It goes back to practice makes perfect, you know. If you don’t have a perfect practice you’re not going to have a perfect effort. (We had a) great week of practice this week, they were so focused. We called it our trap game, potentially, and they would have none of it and just came out and made plays from the get-go. It was pretty exciting.”
We pointed out to the coach that he now has a three game winning streak over Pleasant Grove and we asked him how that felt.
“Hey, that feels good too. I have to say that!”
We also discussed the great turnout out by the Army of Buckeyes at the game and the fact that they gave it their all in the game also.
“You’ve got to love it! You hear them roaring when you’re down here in the Red Zone and the band’s going nuts, the cheerleaders going crazy, it’s just you feel that energy. It’s like you’ve got the whole town of Gilmer sitting behind you and that just fuels our guys. It really does! Proud to be a Buckeye and I’m excited to go to Round 5. This is when it really gets fun when everybody’s playing Christmas music and you’re out there practicing football. That’s a good thing!”
We also wanted to visit with Defensive Coordinator Tommy Edwards. We began by asking how much better the Black Flag Defense could get of the potential last two games of the year.
“The sky’s the limit, first of all. The thing is I was proud of the kids for having those stops, it’s just the plays prior to that we missed on. I just thought we were really sloppy tonight at times, not tackling and doing our assignments. We waited until we got in a bind and then all of a sudden we want to start playing. We’ve got to come out right now and start playing. That’s what we’ve got to get better at. We can’t wait until our backs are against the wall and then do it. We’ve got to do it from the get-go.”
We then asked if he agreed the methodical long, time-consuming drives wore down the defense and he agreed, saying, “It does, and that’s where your depth’s got to come in and you’ve got to have kids behind them that you’re not scared to put in, and we have those kids. Going into it we knew that they were probably going to go back to what they used to do (the Wing-T offense), eating us as much clock as possible, waiting til 3 seconds snapping it just to keep the ball out of our offense’s hands. It was just a matter of we’ve got to get the ball back to the offense, and that’s where I think we did and I did a poor job of getting our kids in the right places and doing the right things to get the ball back to the offense quicker.”
We ended by pointing out that Celina will be the biggest challenge the team has had this season with the possible exception of Carthage and then said we knew the Buckeyes were up to the challenge. He replied, “Yes sir, we’re going to be ready, we’re going to be ready. We got a bad taste in our mouth the last time we played them in this round (2015 when Celina won 49-44), so we’re looking forward to it. We’ve got to be on and we can’t have mistakes. It’s going to be fun to watch!”