By Elwyn Henderson
The 3-2 Gilmer Buckeyes closed out their three game home stand at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer Friday night when they faced the 5-0 Pleasant Grove Hawks in the District 7-4A DII opener in a game that most certainly determined the 2023 district championship.
The Hawks came into the contest as 13-point favorites, but the Buckeyes had thoughts of pulling the upset win while defending their house.
Everyone felt the game would be one of the best in the state and action-packed and it was just that. When the smoke had cleared and the clock ran out on the contest the visitors had garnered a 63-28 victory.
Pleasant Grove won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to the second half to begin the game. Carter Buxton kicked the ball away and the kick was returned out to the 22 by Ta’Erik Tate. After picking up one first down the Buckeyes had to punt the ball away. Brayden Pate’s kick went down to the PG 30 and Ahkhari Johnson brought the Hawk offense onto the field.
It took just 7 plays and 2:21 for the visitors to move the 70 yards to get on the scoreboard. The TD came on a 2-yard run by Jaylen Boardley with 6:44 left in the first half of play. Caleb Jones nailed the PAT and PG led 7-0.
There was a delay after the score due to the chains breaking. A new set had to be brought out before the game could continue.
When play resumed Tate returned the kickoff to the 19. On the first play of the possession Tennison hit Tate for 33 yards to the PG 48. From that point the stout Hawk defense closed the door and Pate was forced to punt the ball on fourth down. The punt went out of bounds at the Pleasant Grove 20 and Johnson brought the offense back on the field.
The Hawks breezed into the end zone again in just 2:42, running 5 plays to move the 80 yards to pay dirt. The score came on a 55-yard Johnson to Boardley pass with 24 seconds left in the first quarter.
PG was offsides on the kick and after a 5-yard assessment the Bucks began at their 30 for their third possession of the night. It was a quick three-and-out and Pate punted the ball away once again. The Black Flag surrendered one first down and then forced a punt on the next series.
After the kick Gilmer went back on offense at their 27. On the first play from scrimmage Tennison rolled to his right, was hit hard, lost the ball and unfortunately, he lay on the field for several minutes before he was assisted onto a stretcher. Credit to the Pleasant Grove Hawks as they knelt in respect while Tennison was being tended to.
On the first play after action began again Johnson hit Jackson Gibson on a 24-yard TD pass with 7:39 left in the first half. Jones hit the point after and the Buckeyes were in a deep 21-0 hole. The play took just 8 seconds off the clock.
After a fair catch of the next kick Jaden Edmond came in to quarterback in place of the injured Tennison. After pass interference on the first play of the possession, there was a fumble on the next play and PG recovered the loose pigskin at the Gilmer 49.
It took just 5 plays and 1:10 for the Hawks to move the 49 yards into the end zone for the fourth TD of the game for Pleasant Grove. Boardley finished the drive off, running into the end zone from the 7 with 6:12 left in the quarter. Jones made the extra point and the score advanced to 28-0.
The Buckeyes started from their 32 after the ensuing kickoff and Edmond led the team on a 68-yard drive in just 3 plays over 1:42. The TD came on a 45-yard run by Will Henderson with 4:47 left in the first half. Pate’s PAT was good and Gilmer cut the lead to 28-7.
Pate kicked onside on the kickoff. It took a perfect bounce and Tate almost got the ball, but the Hawks recovered at their 32 and Johnson led his unit onto the field again. PG found the end zone once again when Johnson hit Lance Jackson from the Gilmer 7, moving the 68 yards in 7 plays over 2:55. Jones was true on the extra point and the lead advanced to 35-7 with 1:52 left in the first half.
The next kickoff was advanced to the Gilmer 27 and Edmond brought the offense back on the field. The Buckeyes moved down the field into scoring position, but a holding call and an interception in the end zone gave the Hawks the ball back at their 20. They ran one play and the half ended.
Pate kicked off to PG to start the third quarter. Pate’s onside kick appeared to be recovered by Gilmer at the PG 40, but the officials ruled the Hawks had recovered and Johnson brought his unit on the field.
The Hawks moved inside the Red Zone but the Black Flag capitalized on a fumble and after a short return the Buckeyes were in business at their 26. It took Edmond and company just 2 plays to move the 74 yards and get into the end zone for their second TD of the game. After a 2-yard Henderson run, he followed that up with a 72-yard trip to the house with 10:02 left in the third quarter. Pate was true on the extra point kick and Gilmer narrowed the gap to 35-14. The drive took just 40 seconds.
The Bucks attempted another onside kick but PG recovered at the Gilmer 48. Johnson led his charges for another TD, finishing off a 5-play, 48-yard scoring drive that took 2:48 off the third quarter clock with a 19-yard run. The score came with 7:14 left in the quarter and pushed the PG advantage to 42-14.
The Hawks kicked off with a pooch kick that was batted out of bounds by a Buckeye, resulting in a 10-yard penalty, leaving Gilmer starting at their 20. PG forced a quick three-and-out and following a Pate rugby style punt the Hawks were back in business at the Gilmer 37 with 6:16 left in the quarter.
Johnson capped off the possession with another rushing down of 6 yards with 3:39 left in the third quarter. The drive was 7 plays, 63 yards and took 2:37. Jones booted the extra point and the score advanced to 49-14 in favor of the visitors.
After a fair catch at the 15 on the kickoff after the score Gilmer set up shop at their 25. After picking up one first down Edmond threw a deep pass that was picked off at the Hawk 35 and returned to the Gilmer 46 and Johnson led his crew back onto the field for yet another possession.
This drive ended in still another PG touchdown. The score came on a 13-yard TD pass from Johnson to Nick Bells with 1:05 left in the third stanza. Jones hit the extra point and the score moved to 56-14 in favor of Pleasant Grove. The drive was 4 plays, 46 yards and took 1:12.
Gilmer got the ball back at their 33 after an unsuccessful onside kick by the Hawks. Edmond led the Bucks on a quick 3-play, 67-yard drive that took just 1:14. The score came on a 45-yard run by Dhrvay Smith with 11:51 left in the game. Pate added the PAT and the score moved to 56-21.
Pate kicked onside once again and this time Taj Manson recovered for Gilmer at the PG 48. After the first play the Hawks were called for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball to the PG 33. Edmond led the team into the end zone again over 5 plays and 1:11. The score came on a Smith 2-yard run with 10:40 left in the game. Pate was good on the extra point and gap narrowed to 56-28.
The next onside attempt was recovered by Jackson at the PG 44. Johnson moved his offense down the field again into the end zone with 5:02 left in the game. The drive was their most time-consuming of the night, 5:38 and it took 10 plays to move the 56 yards for the score. The TD came on a 2-yard run by Boardley. Jones split the uprights on the extra point and the score moved to 63-28.
There was no further scoring in the game and the Hawks walked off with the victory and, barring an unexpected happening over the final four games, the District Championship.
We talked with a disappointed, but proud that his team didn’t roll over and play dead, Buckeye Head Coach Alan Metzel after the game and began by pointing out the team just kept battling in the game.
“You covered it right there, and I am pleased. They played well; they’re a good team; we took it on the chin. What I’m pleased with is the guys fought to the finish because we have a whole rest of district to go. That’s what we talked about at halftime. I said, ‘men, whether we’re able to rally and make a comeback, I don’t know, but this is a rally for the season,’ and they did that and they finished. I am pleased with that. It says a lot about their character and we’ll just keep on getting better.”
We also mentioned that the team was blessed that Cadon Tennison was not hurt any more than just getting hit in the head and knocked out, although everyone hated to see the injury.
“Correct, and he’s ok. Once he came to, he was clear in his speech and was able to move all his extremities. What a blessing; we’re thankful for that. Cadon has obviously had a tremendous year so far. That was tough.
“I was really proud of Jaden (Edmond). Jaden Edmond has worked hard to put himself in a position to be ready and he came in and just was a trouper. He really did a super job of just coming in and not making us to have to change things we were calling. He knows the offense like the back of his hand and was able to make some good throws, and under duress at times. I’m proud of him and the work he’s put in.”
We pointed out that the Bucks scored the most points on the Hawks that they have given up all season and the coach responded, “Right, and I feel like there were things we did in the first half where we just shot ourselves in the foot. Now that’s not taking anything away from them. They had a good game plan, they had good players, but there were things from dropping the ball to an errant snap that just really put us in a bind early. I would like to see us play a little cleaner, but all credit to them and the job they did.”
We asked Coach Metzel his thoughts about PG playing rougher at the end of the plays than they usually do.
“They’re usually pretty clean and for whatever reason tonight it seemed there were a handful of 15-yard penalties. I don’t know what to say on that. I know they were motivated to try and win district and so forth. You know, I’ll just leave it at that.”
The coach also talked about what is up next for the team when they travel to Texarkana next Friday night to take on the Liberty-Eylau Leopards.
“I hope that we can get deep into the playoffs but right now, you know, we’ve got to regroup a little bit. We’ve got to fix some things, we’ve got to prepare and make sure we’re ready for L-E. They always have great athletes and from week to week they can really put a lot of points on the board. We’re going to regroup, make that our focus, and if we’ll take care of next week and start rebuilding some momentum, we’ll hopefully carry that into a run (deep into the playoffs).”
We have to point out how disappointing it was to see a number of our Army of Buckeyes exiting the stadium at halftime. Folks, there is no doubt we have been spoiled over the last 22 seasons with the success the Buckeyes have had, but these young men are playing as hard as they can and deserve having you stay in your seats until the game is over. They never quit, regardless of the score and keep on keeping on. Get upset with me if you like, but shame on you for not supporting these young men. Do the RIGHT thing Friday and make the trip to Texarkana as the Bucks get the ship righted and move on toward the playoffs for yet another year.