Carthage Bulldogs defeated the Gilmer Buckeyes, 28-7, at Lobo Stadium in Longview Friday night.
Carthage will meet Pleasant Grove in the quarterfinals next week. Pleasant Grove defeated Aubrey, 37-14, in Paris Friday afternoon.
By Elwyn Henderson
In a game that has been expected and highly anticipated for nine months all across the state of Texas since the February high school district realignments by the UIL, the Gilmer Buckeyes and Carthage Bulldogs met Friday night in Round 3 of the Class 4A-DII playoffs at Longview Lobo Stadium. The winner earned the right to move on to the Region II Finals on December 2nd and the loser moved on to basketball season.
With Carthage ranked number 1 in DII and Gilmer ranked number 2, common sense said the Bulldogs should prevail, and in the end they did just that, taking a 28-7 win and moving on to the 4A-DII Region 2 Championship against Texarkana Pleasant Grove, a 37-14 winner over Aubrey in Paris.
Gilmer won the coin toss and elected to receive to begin the game. Omar Medrano kicked off from his 40 to the Gilmer 4. The ball was returned to the Gilmer 17 by Will Henderson.
Rohan Fluellen brought the Gilmer offense on the field to begin the first drive. It was a quick three-and-out and Chris Guillen punted from the Gilmer 23 to the Carthage 44 and the ball was returned to midfield.
Connor Cuff brought his offense out for the first Bulldog possession of the game. It took just 2 minutes and 4 plays for the Bulldogs to move the 50 yards into the end zone for the first score. The TD came on a 22-yard pass from Connor Cuff to Noah Paddie with 7:55 left in the first quarter. Medrano added the PAT and Carthage led 7-0.
Medrano’s ensuing kick went into the end zone and Gilmer began their next drive at the 25. On the first play of the possession Rohan Fluellen was intercepted by Tedric Pipkins at the Gilmer 23.
The Black Flag Defense rose to the occasion and the ball turned over on downs at the Gilmer 18.
The Buckeyes managed two first downs on consecutive plays but then Fluellen was dropped for a 7-yard loss on 4th down on the next series and Carthage took back over on their 48.
Once again the Black Flag rose up and forced another three-and-out and after a 36-7ard punt Gilmer was back on offense at their 14.
The offense held onto the ball for 11 plays and picked up three first downs before having to punt the ball away on the fourth series of the possession. Guillen dropped the ball out of bounds at the Carthage 25 and Cuff brought his offense back on the field.
Cuff led the offense the 75 yards into the end zone for the second Bulldog score of the night in 10 plays over 4:29. The score came on an 8-yard pass from Cuff to Paddie with 6:08 left in the first half. Medrano added the extra point and Carthage led 14-0.
Gilmer got the ball back at their 21 after Medrano’s kickoff after the score.
Fluellen moved the team 22 yards in two series before Omero Orona booted a 54-yard punt down to the Bulldog 3.
Cuff moved his team 75 yards over the last 3:11 while running 13 plays, and the first half ended with Medrano missing a 35-yard field goal wide right after getting a second chance following missing a 40-yard field goal wide left. Gilmer was called for running into the kicker, moving the ball 5 yards closer.
As the second half began, Gilmer kicked onside to start the second quarter and Carthage fell on the ball at their 41.
The Dawgs picked up two first downs before punting the ball away to Gilmer and Fluellen brought the offense out at the Gilmer 20 for the first possession of the second half.
Fluellen led the offense on an 80-yard TD drive, going the distance in 5:09 and taking 11 plays to get into the end zone. The score came on a 35-yard pass from Fluellen to Ta’Erik Tate with 3:34 left in the third quarter. Jose Govea added the extra point and Gilmer closed the gap to 14-7.
The Bulldogs set up on their 49 after the Govea kickoff and a 25 yard return by Jekerrian Roquemore. They moved down to the Gilmer 21 and fumbled and Eliez Castillo recovered at that point and Gilmer was back in business.
On the third play of the possession Fluellen was intercepted by Keddrick Harper at the Gilmer 35 and he returned the ball down to the 24. Cuff led his team to another TD, as they moved the 24 yards in 6 plays and 2:14. The score came on an 8-yard pass from Cuff to Paddie with 6:42 left in the game. Medrano added the extra point and Carthage increased their lead to 21-7.
Gilmer set up on their next drive at their 24 knowing they had to get into the end zone and recover an onside kick to have a chance to pull the game out.
After getting one first down the Buckeyes turned the ball over on downs at their 43 with 4:06 left in the game.
Carthage scored again on the possession, moving the 43 yards in 3 plays and 2:26. Medrano added the extra point and Carthage advanced the lead to 28-7 with 1:40 left in the game.
There was no further scoring and the Bulldogs moved on with the 28-7 victory.
We talked with Buckeye Coach Alan Metzel after the disappointing loss and asked his thoughts on the game.
“They play at an extremely high level and it makes you play perfect, and when you don’t, they burn you on both sides of the ball. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort, the way they were into each other, the way they kept battling; we just came up short.”
We asked his thoughts about the unfortunate turnover after the Bucks had pulled to within 7 at 14-7, and he replied, “On the first down play we didn’t get much on the yardage, we were still kind of behind the sticks and we were kind of in a bind there. You’re having to make a decision, do we just run it again, are we going to go for it on fourth, and it was kind of an awkward time. We tried to run a play where maybe we could get a back up the sideline; they got soft, made a nice play and were able to swing the momentum back.”
We asked Coach Metzel if the fact Cadon Tennison would return at quarterback for two more seasons played into the decision not to play him much in the game.
“Well, we didn’t have him cleared until Wednesday and I wasn’t going to announce that. We had to set up the game plan not knowing if we would have him, and so that’s the route we had to go. He didn’t get to do anything but throw one on zero earlier in the week and so we were pretty limited and had to go the route that we did. I thought Ro was valiant and just gave a warrior’s effort. Cadon’s got a great future ahead and we know that he’s a winner. Injuries are a part of the game and we had a tough one a couple of weeks ago that set him back a little bit. The last drive there we were going to try to throw some screens or something to get it out of his hand quick, but we had to be careful. It wasn’t going to be something where you could put him in and be running him. We didn’t feel good about that, so yes, it limited us.”
We also pointed out that the Black Flag Defense kept making play after play all game long.
“They did; they battled their hearts out and just kept giving us opportunities and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
We concluded our final interview of the 2022 season by asking Coach Metzel how despite the loss if he didn’t agree there was a lot more dynasty to continue in Buckeye land.
“For tonight it’s a gut punch when you feel like you’ve got a shot, you put it all in. When you put yourself all the way out there, you’re just spent and it hurts. Do I feel like our team will be very good next year, absolutely!”
We also visited briefly with Carthage head coach Scott Surratt and began by asking him if he ever doubted his Bulldogs would come out on top.
“No! You’d better not have any doubt or you’d better not blink or you’re going to be watching the other team go and advance in front of you, but we knew it was going to be tough. We knew they were going to be very physical and they were and it was a brawl. It was two great teams, great programs going at it. We’re very fortunate to win. I thought we let some things get away from us, getting down there in the red zone a couple of times and missing the field goal and not getting fourth down and that kept them in the game longer than we wanted to. You’ve got to give them credit there. Coach Metzel and his staff got their team to play very well. I think we averaged over 50 points a game and we only scored 28, so their defense played great.”
We asked his thoughts on the Dawg defense creating the two big turnovers, and he responded, “Yeah, we knew they were going to lean on the run with Fluellen. You can see how talented they are and how talented Gilmer is running the ball. They’ve got three or four guys back there that can run really, really well. We controlled that but we gave the one go route up to number 7 (Tate). We knew he could fly, but our corner came right back and picked the ball right out of the air. It was just another Friday night good old football game. It had a championship feel to it, but now we’ve got to move on because we know how good Pleasant Grove is.”
While the season didn’t end like the Buckeyes and the Buckeye Army wanted, once again we had a fantastic 2022 season and finished 11-1 on the year. Be sure to thank these young men for the great job they did this season making it to the third round for 16 years in a row. We’ll be back bigger and better in 2023!