By Elwyn Henderson
The Gilmer Buckeyes traveled to R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium in Kilgore Friday night for their matchup against the Kilgore Bulldogs. Kilgore was hoping to rebound from their close 30-27 loss to the Carthage Bulldogs a week earlier in Kilgore, while the Buckeyes were hoping to bounce back from their 71-53 loss to the Chapel Hill Bulldogs.
Kilgore was ranked #9 in Class 4A DI before their loss last week to Carthage, but because of their pedigree with 9 State Championships Kilgore remains at #9 this week once again because the played such a close game. Gilmer was ranked #5 in Class 4A DII and dropped to #10 following their loss last week. With the victory over the Buckeyes, Chapel Hill moved up from #3 to #2 in Class 4A DI this week.
Following last week’s results CalPreps had Gilmer listed as a 9-poing underdog going into the game, but the Buckeyes had other thoughts and rose to challenge in the road game. By the time the dust cleared, Gilmer came close to pulling the upset, giving up the lead with just 8.9 seconds left and Kilgore notched a 24-23 win. The Bulldogs evened their record to 1-1 on the young season while the Bucks drop to 0-2.
Cadon Tennison and the Buckeyes began the game on offense at their 40.
After converting a fourth down, on the second play of the next series, Tennison hit Grayson Bates on what looked like an incomplete pass but the officials ruled he caught the ball and fumbled and PJ Wiley recovered for the Bulldogs.
Derrick Williams brought his charges out at the Kilgore 43 where they began their first drive. They moved the ball down to the Gilmer 22 where they faced a 4th and 5 and the Buckeyes stuffed QB Williams for no gain and Gilmer took over. They moved the ball down to the Kilgore 47 before being forced to punt the ball away on fourth down. Braden Pate’s kick was taken at the Bulldog 17 and returned up to the 45 and Kilgore set up shop from there.
Williams and his charges moved the ball down to the Gilmer 3 in just three plays and the first quarter ended with the home team looking at a first and goal from that point. On the second play after a 3-yard loss on a fumble, Williams ran to the 1 and fumbled into the end zone and Aron Bell recovered for the Buckeyes.
The offense was unable to get a first down and Pate punted the ball away and after a short return Kilgore went back on the offensive. The Black Flag defense gave up one first down and then on the third play of the next series Brendan Webb intercepted Williams at the Gilmer 30 and returned the pick to the Kilgore 42.
The Bucks could not pick up a first down and Pate was forced to kick the ball away again. The ball was downed at the Kilgore 14. The Black Flag rose up once again and forced a punt . The ball traveled just 16 yards to the Bulldog 29.
It took Tennison and company just four plays and 38 seconds to move the 29 yards for the first score of the game. The TD came on a 4-yard run by Tennison with 4:09 left in the first half. Pate nailed the PAT and Gilmer led 7-0.
The ensuing kickoff was taken at the 14 and returned up to the 22. On the first play of the possession Mykah Easley tipped a Williams pass and Williams caught the ball 8 yards down the field. After yielding one first down the defense rose to the occasion and forced a punt. The ball traveled to the Gilmer 18 and was returned up to the 29 by Webb and Gilmer set up shop at that point with 14.9 seconds left in the half.
On the first play Tennison hit Henderson for a gain of 17 up to the 45. They moved down to the Kilgore 40, facing a 4th and 10 with one second left in the half. A deep pass resulted in a catch down to the 24 and the half ended with Gilmer leading 7-0.
Pate kicked the ball to the Bulldogs to begin the second half. Pate kicked onside but Kilgore recovered at their 42. The Black Flag surrendered one first down and then forced a punt. The ball was downed at the Gilmer 18 and Tennison brought the offense back on the field.
The Buckeyes got a good drive going down the field but the drive stalled on an incomplete pass for Will Henderson and Kilgore took over on downs at their 30 with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
Williams led the Bulldog offense the 70 yards for the tying score in 9 plays over 3:37. The score came on a 23-yard TD run by Matthew Hardy with 1:17 left in the third quarter. Leo Yzaguirre split the uprights on the extra point and the game was tied 7-7.
It was a quick three-and-out for Gilmer on their next possession after they began a drive at their 41 and following a Pate punt to the 25 that was returned to the 33, Kilgore took over back on offense.
The Black Flag forced another three-and-out and following another Bulldog punt, the Buckeyes took over on their 35. On 4th down and 15, Gilmer connected with a Tennison to Geramiah Noble for a 16-yard completion and a first down at the Kilgore 14. The drive stalled and Pate came in to attempt a 36-yard field goal. The kick was perfect and Gilmer took a 10-7 lead with 5:27 left in the game.
The Black Flag took care of business again and forced another punt. The kick went to the Gilmer 26 and the Buckeyes took back over at that point for what would be a quick TD. Henderson gained four yards on the first play and then Webb ran 70 yards into the end zone with 3:52 left in the game. Pate was true on the extra point and the Gilmer lead advanced to 17-7. The drive took only 22 seconds.
On the ensuing kickoff Kilgore returned the ball up to their 49 and set up shop with time to get back into the game.
The ‘Dogs began a vicious march toward the goal line and scored on a 2-yard run by quarterback Williams with 2:43 left in the game. The PAT by Yzaguirre was good and the Gilmer lead was cut to 17-14.
Everyone in the house knew there would be an onside kick on the kickoff and sure enough there was. The kick went out of bounds just three yards down the field and after a 5-yard penalty for the out of bounds kick, Gilmer set up on the Bulldog 39 with 2:43 left in the game.
The Kilgore defense was fired up and forced a 4th and 5 from their 33. All the fans were on their feet and Gilmer turned the ball over on downs.
The Bulldogs took just 4 plays to move the 67 yards into the end zone and took just 24 seconds to get the score. It came on a 40-yard pass from Williams to Jayden Sanders with 1:49 left in the game. The extra point was good and Kilgore took a 21-17 lead.
Gilmer came right back with a 2-play, 58-yard TD drive in just 33 seconds. The score came on a 32-yard pass to Noble with 1:16 left in the game. The extra point was blocked, but Gilmer took a 23-21 lead.
Following the score Kilgore took over on their 34. On the first play Gilmer was called for a highly questionable pass interference when it appeared the Bulldog receiver ran through the Buckeye defender on an uncatchable ball. On the next play Kilgore was called for holding and then they completed a 14-yard pass and were on the move.
They moved down to the Gilmer 19 with 12.9 seconds left and spiked the ball on first down. They sent Yzaguirre out to attempt a 36-yard field goal. The kick was good and Kilgore advanced to a 24-23 lead with just 8.6 seconds left.
Aiden Reyes kicked the ball to the Gilmer 18 and Noble returned it to the Kilgore 24 and the game ended with the home team taking the victory.
We visited with Coach Alan Metzel after the game and began by asking him did he not agree that the Buckeyes improved 500% over where they were last week, and he replied, “No doubt. I could not be prouder of the Gilmer Buckeyes. I mean yeah, we lost by a point and that’s tough to swallow. It’s going to take me a little while to process all that, but I am so proud. Look at what the defense did; Herculean effort. Coach Edwards and his group made multiple tweaks as you saw, and the guys just battled. It was just like warriors, you know. We played a great team and for East Texas that was a great game, but for us right now we’ve gotta swallow.”
We asked the coach what changed in the fourth quarter when the defensive battle became an offensive barrage by both teams.
“Obviously, fatigue sets in. They did a good job of stuffing the middle. They really did a good job and they were forcing us wide. They are very athletic on the edge, so from our standpoint I can say that. They were playing well. It forced us to call some other things and other people had to make plays and they did. Cadon hit some passes, you had Geramiah (Noble) making catches, (and) you had B (Brendan) Webb making catches. We had guys that were making plays. What it forced us to do was broaden the offense which is gonna make us better in the long run. I think that was a good bit of it. For us, they hit some big passes that earlier in the game they didn’t hit, you know. Credit to them, (Williams) he put a great pass on the sideline. They threw a bunch of them on the night and that was one they hit.”
We also asked when the Buckeyes were forcing the Bulldogs to use their timeouts if there was a consideration to possibly throw a pass rather than running the ball all four plays.
“There was, but we felt like we could get the fourth down (conversion). If you throw it you have to run the risk of stopping the clock, so we were betting on ourselves. They made a play and stopped us. I’d run the same thing over, to be honest. They just made the play.”
We asked Coach Metzel what Kilgore did differently their last two drives when they scored their last touchdown and kicked the winning field goal to prevent the Buckeyes from sealing the edge, which they had done well all night prior to those two drives.
“Well, fatigue sets in and if you don’t get leverage on the guy who’s trying to seal the edge, now they’ve got the edge. We lost leverage a couple of times in critical moments and we gave them a kick return or two where it really flipped the field. Those are things that are hidden in there that we can’t allow to allow a good team to get back in the game.”
We asked if knowing how much more growing the team could do if he didn’t feel very good about where the team is and he responded, “Absolutely. I told the guys it’s hard right now. I’m not one of those who goes ‘oh, we needed to lose.’ I don’t think we needed that but what I did say was last year we felt pretty good about ourselves about right now. We were 2-0 and our season ended in week 13. I said this was going to push us. We’re 0-2 against two good teams, but it’s going to cause us to step and grow to new heights. Our goal is to push further and reach higher goals than we did last year, so we’re going to use this as motivation.”
We concluded by asking Coach Metzel what he wanted to say to the Army of Buckeyes.
“The Gilmer Buckeye community is a family. Our kids feed off of that; we feed off of that. You felt that energy that last fourth quarter, I mean it was on fire! It’s the 12th man, so to speak. I know that’s cliché, but it is and we derive energy from it. As many as are willing to drive up there, I know it’s a long ride, but we’d love to have them.”
We know all Buckeye fans are drained and disappointed with the season beginning as it has, but remember the team never quit against Chapel Hill when they easily could have and they fought to the finish and almost still had a fantastic finish on the final 8.9 seconds on the kick return after Kilgore took the 24-23 lead. These young men are going to do great things this season and they deserve and should have your support next week in Paris. Show that Gilmer P R I D E and make the drive up north and cheer the Buckeyes on to victory over the Wildcats Friday night!