By Elwyn Henderson
After a glorious kickoff to the start of the 2022 high school football season last Friday night in Chapel Hill with the blowout 51-27 win over the Bulldogs in a matchup of Titans, the Gilmer Buckeyes had their home opener at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer Friday night, hoping to continue their winning ways. The task at hand was with another worthy opponent in the Kilgore Bulldogs.
Kilgore came into the game hoping for redemption after being blasted 45-10 by the Carthage Bulldogs a week earlier. They had been ranked 9th going into that game, but despite the fact they lost by a wide margin they only dropped to 10th due to the fact they lost to Carthage.
According to Buckeye Historian Joe Dodd the teams have played five times in the history of the two schools with Kilgore holding an all-time advantage of 5-2 going into the game. The last time the two schools met was a key district matchup in 2013 in Kilgore. The Bulldogs prevailed in that game that determined the District Championship 34-29.
Coach Alan Metzel had said going into the game that he was expecting a stiff challenge from Kilgore because they had very talented athletes and good team speed. The ‘Dogs did provide a gargantuan test, but once again Gilmer proved they were up to the challenge, coming out on top by a score of 40-26.
After winning the coin toss Gilmer elected to receive the ball to begin the game. After a 10-yard kickoff return the Buckeyes set up on their 40 for their first possession of the night.
After starting off with a false start and a 16-yard pass, Kilgore forced a Gilmer punt. Omero Orona hit a 38-yard kick down to the Kilgore 15 and Da’Marion VanZandt brought the Bulldog offense on the field for the first time.
The visitors picked up three first downs before the Black Flag Defense forced a Leo Yzaguirre 45-yard punt down to the Gilmer 5 that was returned to the 18. It was a quick three-and-out for the Bucks and after a 32-yard Orona punt, the Bulldogs took over on offense at their 42.
VanZandt led his team the 58 yards into the end zone for the first score of the game in 5 plays that took 2:37. The score came on a 15-yard TD run by Isaiah Ross with 51 seconds left in the first quarter. Yzaguirre added the PAT and Kilgore took the early 7-0 lead.
The two teams exchanged punts on their ensuing possessions and then Gilmer set up shop on their 33 with 10:06 left in the half and finally got things going offensively. They moved the 67 yards into the end zone in just 4 plays and 1:07. The score came on a 21-yard TD pass from Cadon Tennison to Ta’Erik Tate with 8:59 left in the first half. Jose Govea added the extra point and the game was tied, 7-7.
Kilgore managed one first down on their next possession before the Black Flag forced another punt. Gilmer was not able to garner a first down on their next possession, but Orona blasted a 66-yard punt down to the Bulldog 8.
The guests picked up one first down on their next possession before being forced to punt away on the next series. After Fluellen returned the ball from the Gilmer 38 to the Kilgore 47 the Buckeyes were on the offensive once again.
It took only 2 plays for the Buckeyes to find the end zone for the second time. On the first play Tennison hit Rohan Fluellen for a gain of 13 and followed that up with a 34-yard TD pass to Cade Bowman with 1:59 left in the half. The drive took just 13 seconds. Govea added the extra point and Gilmer led 14-7.
Kilgore began at their 31 following the kickoff after the score and things got crazy quickly. On the first play of the possession VanZandt was intercepted by Tyson Wilson at the Gilmer 30. Gilmer was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for what appeared to be excessive celebration on the official’s part and the ball was moved back to the Gilmer 15.
On the very next play as Tennison was rolling out around the right end a Kilgore defender caught up with him and swung him around causing the ball to come out and go out of the side of the end zone resulting in a safety and 2 points for the Bulldogs. That brought the score to 14-9.
After a free kick by following the safety the Bulldogs set up at their 48 after a 20 yard return.
VanZandt led his charges on a 6-play, 33-yard drive that took 1:02 off the clock and resulted in a 32-yard Yzaguirre field goal with 37 seconds left in the half. That brought the score to 14-12 and Buckeye fans were beginning to get a bit concerned. That concern disappeared quickly on the ensuing kickoff.
Fluelle took the ball at his 16 and returned the ball 84 yards into the end zone for a Buckeye TD with 27 seconds left in the half. Govea added the point after and the Gilmer lead increased to 21-12.
Kilgore ran 2 move plays beginning at midfield and half ended, sending the teams to their respective locker rooms to prepare for the second half.
There was no further scoring until 1:46 left in the third quarter of play. Kilgore finished off a 7-play, 65-yard drive that consumed 4:14 with a 39-yard pass from VanZandt to PJ Wiley. Yzaguirre added the extra point and the ‘Dogs were within 3 points, trailing 21-19.
It didn’t take long for Gilmer to respond. After Cade Bowman made a fair catch at the Gilmer 32 on the kickoff it took just 3 plays and 47 seconds for the Buckeyes to move the 68 yards to pay dirt. Tennison hit Fluellen for a 23-yard gain. Will Henderson followed with runs of 3 and 42 yards to get into the end zone. The score came with 59 seconds left in the third quarter. Govea nailed the PAT and the Gilmer lead increased to 28-19.
Just as Buckeye fans were breathing a little easier, Kilgore came right back when Dadrian Franklin took the ensuing kick at his 22 and returned it 78 yards into the end zone for a touchdown with 36 seconds left in the quarter. Yzaguirre added the extra point and Kilgore was back within 2 points, trailing 28-26.
Not to be outdone, Gilmer responded with a 6-play, 65-yard drive that took 1:52. After being called for offensive pass interference on the first play, Tennison hit Ta’Eric Tate for a 71-yard pass play. Will Henderson carried the ball the following 4 plays, scoring from 1-yard out with 10:42 left in the game. Govea was true on the extra point kick and the lead was 34-26.
On the next Bulldog possession, the ‘Dogs fumbled the ball and the Black Flag recovered on the Gilmer 34. The victory was short-lived, as after a 22-yard pass from Tennison to Fluellen, Zaylon Stoker picked off Tennison at the Kilgore 2.
On the third play of the possession Isaiah Ross was tackled in the end zone for a safety with 6:26 left in the game, putting the Buckeyes up 37-26, their biggest lead of the night.
Kilgore took a chance with an onside kick on the free kick kickoff, but the ball rolled to the Gilmer 45 and the Buckeyes recovered the ball and began what was to be their final scoring drive of the night.
The offense methodically drove down the field chewing time off the clock. The moved the ball 54 yards in 12 plays and took 6:08 off the clock, ending the drive with a Govea 18-yard field goal with just 18 seconds remaining in the game. The 3-pointer put the Buckeyes up 40-26.
Kilgore got the ball back at their 45 and ran just one play as time expired, giving Gilmer their second win in as many games. Kilgore dropped to 0-2 after the loss.
We talked with Buckeye Head Coach Alan Metzel after the big win and pointed out that the Bucks responded to everything Kilgore did all night long.
“I’m so proud of our guys. We made more mistakes tonight than in some 6-game stretches, but they showed resolve that was amazing. We are a team, something special, from the standpoint of player-led; you know, getting into their teammates; sideline when somebody makes a mistake, we don’t even have to say anything. They’re taking care of it, going hey, we got to meet him down there and encourage him. That kind of stuff, that shapes a team, and we’re doing that right now against two really good opponents. I’m so proud of the fight that was in our guys tonight.”
We discussed the fact that BOTH teams got a safety in the game, something I don’t ever remember happening in any game I covered.
“Yeah, and each team returned a kickoff. There was all kinds of craziness in the game. I think it’s a testimony of the number of athletes we had on the field. We had some negative plays and they had some negative plays that put us backed up and they had the same scenario so a wild one for sure.
We asked coach how much of the team’s response to never give up in the game had to do with the Buckeye Dynasty and not wanting to let the fans or their teammates down.
“It’s ALL about that. These guys have grown up winning. When you talk about winning it doesn’t always come down to scoring more points than the other team. Winners is something that you just are and you are seeing that right now and these guys that was the resolve I was referencing a minute ago. They just expect to go make the next play. Right now they are playing with a confidence that just shows and trickles down from those seniors.”
We also asked his thoughts on Cadon Tennison growing up in just his second game as the field general
“He did, and there were some ugly things, there were some great things, but again, the ability to have a negative play and just come back and play the next play, that’s amazing, and he did that all night long. He was so good controlling his emotions and his teammates were amazing, breathing life into him and encouraging him, and then by gosh he’d come back and just throw a beauty of a pass on the next play; super job by Cadon.”
We also wanted to know Coach Metzel’s thoughts on Rohan Fluellen’s performance in the game and he replied, “The guy is just amazing. I’ll tell you Elwyn, he may be one of the best practice players that we’ve ever had. Every day, every rep, in individual, in group, in team, 7on7, good on good, whatever, every play he goes hard and that’s why he’s amazing when it’s game time.”
We concluded by discussing the final field goal. We pointed out that the team could have easily scored a TD but wondered if he didn’t feel the field go would be good for continuing to boost Jose Govea’s confidence.
“To me right there it wasn’t worth running a play. The point differential doesn’t matter. We wanted to get the work. It was kind of a tough one over there on the right hash close and he just hammered it through; excellent job by him and our snappers with them right on them. (It was a) really good job on that operation.”
We also had the chance to visit with Rohan Fluellen after his huge game and asked him what his motivation was besides the fact he always wants to get better.
“I just feel like every time you step on the field you’ve just got to take the opportunity to get better, and if you don’t there’s just no point in being out there.”
We also discussed how even when things went awry the team bounced right back and wanted his thoughts on that never-say-die performance.
“Every time the other team had a big kick return or had a long touchdown we decided to get our players all rallied up and told them to keep their heads up and keep their heads level so we can come back and score again.”
We closed by asking Rohan his thoughts about Cadon Tennison growing up so much more in the game, and he responded, “Yeah, Cadon did a great job. Me and him have been on the field all summer so we’ve been putting the work in and I think it’s finally showing.”
We concluded by talking with Cadon a bit about his gutsy performance in the game and his growth and asked what the game meant to him.
“It felt good to win, to come out here and execute every play that we did. We had some us and downs but we still came back from it and made plays.”
We also asked Cadon his thoughts about Rohan Fluellen.
“He’s just great! There’s nothing I can say about him. He knows what he’s doing. He just knows everything.”
The Buckeyes will be back at Jeff Traylor Stadium next Friday, September 9th when they host the Paris Wildcats in a 7:30 PM kickoff. Buckeye Army, be in your seats and be #WarReady!