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By ELWYN HENDERSON
The Gilmer Buckeyes will face a familiar playoff foe Friday night in Prosper when they take on the Celina Bobcats at 7 p.m. in the Class 4A DII State Semifinals. The two teams have faced each other four times previously in a “win or go home” game and the Buckeyes have been victorious in three of the four games. Gilmer was victorious the first two times, first in an area round game in Richardson in 2003 with a 45-22 victory and then in 2014 in the semifinals at SMU’s Ford Stadium in a blowout 67-14 Gilmer win. The lone Celina win, 49-44, came in the semifinals in 2015. Gilmer avenged that loss in the quarterfinals in 2016 by the score of 43-17.
Gilmer enters the fray with 13-1 record on the season while the Bobcats come in at 12-1. They had a game scheduled in the middle of the season canceled by Boerne and were not able to find another opponent for that week.
Celina is the Region 1 winner after defeating Aubrey 34-0 last Friday while Gilmer is the Region 2 winner after defeating Pleasant Grove last Friday night 36-15. The winner will advance to AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Friday, December 17th to meet the winner of this Friday night’s game between Region 3 winner China Spring and Region 4 winner Cuero in a game scheduled for a 3 PM kickoff.
The Bobcats began their season with a 34-13 win over Melissa and a 35-24 win over Paris before suffering their only loss in a 23-0 affair to Argyle. They bounced back by defeating Paul Pewitt 42-6 and Nike Dallas FC, 51-14.
They began District 4-4A DII by defeating Aubrey 49-14, and rolled from there as they defeated Krum 70-7, Van Alstyne 41-12 and Sanger 70-0 and before starting their playoff run. Their playoff run includes a 66-7 win over Mineral Wells, a 57-7 win over Perryton, a 46-6 win over Snyder and the 34-0 win last week over Aubrey in their district rematch.
Celina returns 9 offensive and 6 defensive starters along with 27 offensive and 25 defensive lettermen from last year’s 6-5 Regional Finalist. They missed 3 games last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football says of the Bobcats, “(OL Michael) Reemts (6’6”, 300) is an all-state candidate and leads a massive OL. QB (Noah) Bentley (1601 yards, 20 TDs passing, 4 TDs rushing) was sensational as a sophomore and could put up bigger numbers in 2021 with big-play WR (Collin) Urich (839 yards, 9 TDs receiving). LB’s (Hunter) Neely (95 tackles, 27 TFL, 1 INT) and (Zack) Veverka (76 tackles 25 TFL, 4 sacks) lead the Celina 10-1 defense.”
We caught up with Celina Head Coach Bill Elliott Monday morning and asked if he agreed with both teams playing great football now and both having lost just once on the season if he agreed the game could come down to who has the ball last.
“It could; definitely, I think it’s going to be a great matchup. We’re real excited about the opportunity and it could be one of those type games, you know. You have two big champs coming together just trading blows, so it’s just going to be a great game. Gilmer’s got a lot of talent; man they’ve got talent. It’s going to be hard for us to match up to some of the speed that they’ve got, but we’re just excited to get to play another week right now.”
We asked the coach what he was most proud of about the 2021 Bobcats and he said, “You know, just how hard they play; they play so hard with a lot of heart and emotion. They’ve done a good job of buying into what we ask them to do and playing how we ask them to play. They’re just a close-knit group. It’s not like we’ve got a great big start that just stands out from everybody. We’ve got a lot of kids that just play real hard and they do a great job as a team, and that’s what’s so special.”
When we asked him what the strongest points of his team were, he responded, “Our defense is playing lights out. They shut out Aubrey last week which was amazing. It’s just the way they play. There’s not a big D1 standout out there on the field, it’s just that they play really hard and they play really fast.”
He continued, “Offensively, our running back had a tremendous game. He’s played real well; offensive line has blocked real well. It’s just kind of been a whole team effort. There’s a lot of areas that stand out as a team.”
We finished our visit by pointing out that Celina will come in as a slight favorite in the game and wondered what the Bobcats needed to do in order get the victory and head to the State Championship next week.
“I don’t see how (Celina would be favored)! We’ll have to play great defense. Gilmer’s offense is unbelievable. We’re going to have to control the football and do a good job of that. We’re going to have to try to limit their touches and keep the ball away from them. We’re going to have to play a physical football game. That’s what we’ve tried to do all year long is play hard, fast and physical and that’s what we’re going to have to do. We’ll challenge our kids to do that because if athletic-wise if you line up down the line with Gilmer’s athletes there’s no way with foot races and stuff, there’s no way we’d be able to compete. Y’all have some spectacular athletes so we’ve just got to put a lot of heart and a lot of effort into it to try to match with the athletic ability that they have.”
When we had our usual Monday visit with Buckeye Head Coach Alan Metzel we asked if he agreed it didn’t bother him at all that the Buckeyes would go into the game as a very slight underdog.
“Oh, absolutely; honestly, we don’t get to be underdogs too many times. I’m good with it you know. I think it is motivating. Our guys like seeing that and having a little chip on their shoulder and going ‘ok, if that’s what they’re gonna think’. Yeah, I’m good with that. To me, I don’t every worry about those things, whether it had us or them, but it is something that I can throw out there to my team.”
We then asked if he felt this game would be the biggest challenge his team has encountered all season.
“I think it is equal to the Carthage challenge in that this is winning or go home, so the magnitude of the game is tremendous. I think that Carthage is probably the most talented team that we will have faced, but from the standpoint that you’ve got to win this or that’s it, that makes this a huge game. They’re a storied program and it’s a grand stage, so absolutely, it’s a big game.”
When we asked the coach what concerned him the most about the Bobcats, he responded, “They’re very tenacious on defense. Their whole way of playing on defense is pushing the envelope. They’re trying to create negative plays on the offense. In most of the games they’ve played they’ve held them in a position where they haven’t been very successful. Now that’s on us; if you can get the ball past the line of scrimmage you’ve got a chance for a big play. Whether it’s a run game and we’ve got to be able to block people up or it’s connect down the field, we’ve got to be able to make those plays and have some big plays.”
We also wanted to know if he felt the game could come down to who has the ball last in the contest.
“Yeah, potentially; they’re good on offense. They’ve got a really strong running game, very big offensive line. Their center is kind of their best lineman. He’s really a solid player. You’re talking about two teams that have scored a lot of points this year and held other teams to pretty low games, so it’s gonna be a war.”
We concluded by asking what he felt the Buckeyes would have to do to get the win and move on to the State Championship next Friday.
“I think again because of the style of defense they play we’re going to have to be patient from the standpoint that you may have two, three, four ugly plays in a row, but then when you have your big play you’ve got to capitalize. You’ve got to make the catch, you’ve got to make the guy miss and go score. Whereas other teams a lot of the time are more of a ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality, they’re all or nothing. You may have ugly play, ugly play and then hopefully a big play. We’ve just got to be mentally tough not to let it get into your head and get you frustrated, knowing that if you just keep pressing that we’re going to pop one. I think that’s pretty important for us.”
“On our defense I think it’s going to be real important that we slow their running game down. I know that’s a real emphasis of Celina’s offense. As far as the town and the game, we’re excited to play. Here we are in the State Semi-Finals. We had a great crowd in Propser last year in the Graham game. We’d sure love to put as many people as we can in that home side, get it rocking and have a great, great Semi-Final matchup.”
Hats off to our Scout Team Players of the Week. Grayson Bates was the offensive winner and Jayden Edmond was the defensive winner. Thanks for your hard work young men!
Please make sure that the Army of Buckeyes are in attendance in Prosper Friday night. This will be a very stiff test for the Buckeyes and they need you there to support them and cheer them on to victory to earn another trip back to Jerry World with an opportunity to claim the school’s fourth State Championship trophy. GO BUCKEYES!!!