By Elwyn Henderson
The Gilmer Buckeyes concluded the 2023 regular season at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer on Senior Night, as they took on the Pittsburg Pirates in the sixth and final home game of the season in the District 7-4A DII finale.
Just as expected, the Buckeyes buried the hapless Pirates by the score of 64-6. Buckeye football historian Joe Dodd pointed out that with the exception of the knee the Buckeyes took right before the first half ended that Gilmer had scored on 17 straight possessions, which shows just how potent the offense has become over these last 4 weeks.
Gilmer won the coin toss and elected to receive to begin the game. Alonso Solorio pooch kicked the ball and it was fair caught at the Gilmer 39 and Cadon Tennison brought the Buckeyes out for their first possession of the night.
Tennison led the offense on a 6-play, 61-yard drive that took just 1:26. The drive ended when Tennison hit Ta’Erik Tate on a 27-yard TD pass with 10:34 left in the first quarter. Brayden Pate kicked the PAT and Gilmer had an early lead.
Pate’s ensuing kick went out of bounds at the Pitt 25 and after a 5-yard mark off Nick Styles brought his offense on the field. It was a quick three-and-out forced by the Black Flag Defense and after a punt to the Buckeye 23 Tennison and the offense hit the field again.
The possession was a quick 3 plays. Will Henderson ran for 13 on the first play, Tennison then hit Tate for a gain of 55 and then Brendan Webb ran into the end zone from the 9 with 7:51 left in opening frame. Pate’s extra point was good and Gilmer was up 14-0.
The visitors bean their next drive at their 29 and the Black Flag forced a second three-and-out. After a punt Gilmer set up at their 42 and Jaden Edmond came in at quarterback.
Edmond led the unit into the end zone once again, moving the ball the 58 yards into the end zone in 6 plays that consumed 2:30. Aron Bell ran into the end zone for a 2-point conversion and the Gilmer lead moved up to 22-0.
The Pirates muffed the kickoff and began their next drive at their 10 after recovering the ball. They ran 7 plays before Styles was hit 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He fumbled and Geramiah Noble recovered the loose pigskin at the Pitt 19 and Edmond and the offense were licking their chops once again.
It took just 1 play and 5 seconds to move the 19 yards into the end zone for the fourth touchdown of the game. Dhrvay Smith took a handoff from Edmond and darted into the end zone with exactly 1 minute left in the quarter. Pate was true on the point after kick and the blowout was officially on with the hosts up 29-0.
Pate’s next kick sailed out of the end zone and the Pirates began their next drive at their 25. Styles head his troops on an 8-play, 75 yard TD drive that took 3:25. The score came on a 58-yard TD pass from Styles to Jaylen Holloway with 9:35 left in the first half of play. A 2-point try was no good and the score was 29-6 in favor of the Buckeyes.
Another Pirate pooch kick was taken at the Gilmer 37 and was advanced to the 45 where Edmond and company went back to work.
It took just 3 plays and 1:18 for the Buckeyes to move the 55 yards to pay dirt and light up the scoreboard yet again. The score came on a 50-yard TD run around right end by Will Henderson with 8:17 left in the half. Pate’s extra point try was good and Gilmer led 36-6.
The visitors began their next drive at their 31. Styles moved his unit down to the Gilmer 13 where they faced a 4th down and goal. They got downfield thanks to a 55-yard run by Styles. The 4th down pass fell incomplete and Gilmer took over on downs at their 13 with 5:25 left in the half.
Tennison came back in at quarterback and moved the team the 87 yards into the end zone for another touchdown with 3:36 left in the half. The score came on a 35-yard TD pass from Tennison the Jamar Byrd with 3:36 left in the half. Pate booted the extra point and the Bucks led 43-6.
The next Pitt drive began on their 17 and the Black Flag forced their three-and-out. The Pitt punt died at midfield and Tennison brought the offense back on the field with 2:16 left in the first half.
This possession was the Aron Bell show, as Bell carried the ball on all 4 plays on the drive. He ran for 7, 32, 10 and then 1-yard into the end zone for the score with 1:01 left in the half. Pate’s extra point kick was good and Gilmer’s lead catapulted to 50-6.
The Pirates began their final drive of the half at their 24. On the third play of the possession Styles fumbled the ball away and Gilmer recovered the pigskin at the Pitt 17. Edmond came in at qb and took a knee out of victory formation for the final play of the half.
Pate kicked the ball away to begin the second half and the Pirates began at their 25 for their first possession of the second half. The Black Flag forced another three-and-out and following a Pitt punt Tennison brought the offense back on the field at the Gilmer 26.
Tennison ended the drive with a 19-yard TD pass to Webb with 4:49 left in the third quarter, concluding the 9-play, 74-yard drive that took 4:44 off the clock. The referee signaled a running clock to begin the possession. Pate’s extra point was good and Gilmer’s lead advanced to 57-6.
The next Pitt possession began at their 33. The Black Flag continued their dominance, and on 4th down there was no gain and the ball turned over on downs at the Pirate 39.
Jordan Escalante came in at quarterback to finish the game. It took just 4 plays and 2:32 for Gilmer to find the end zone again and end the 39-yard drive. Daydrion Jimmerson ran into the end zone from the 5 with 11:53 left in the game. Pate’s PAT was good and the Buckeye lead grew to 64-6.
The next Pitt possession began at their 38. The Black Flag forced another three-and-out. Following a punt to the Gilmer 19, Escalante brought the offense back again. The Bucks gained one first down and then Pate came in for his first and only punt of the night. It was a booming 59-yarder that died at the Pirate 4. The visitors moved the ball over their 40 and the game ended.
When we visited with Coach Alan Metzel after the lopsided victory we began by asking him if he remembered the Buckeyes ever playing a more complete game than they did against the Pirates.
“It was up in the top, I would have to say. From special teams, to offense, defense, no matter who went in the game, and we played everyone, you can look through there and they can probably take the highlight film off of that game. We were so focused. It was neat because before the game those seniors were so emotional because it means something to them to play on this field and in front of our fans.”
When we asked about moving to Phase 3 and into the playoffs Friday night Coach Metzel replied, “We’ll shift our attention. We’ve got to take our intensity up to playoff intensity. Center’s got a good team and they’ve got a really talented quarterback who’s very dangerous along with a running back who’s very talented, so we’ve got our hands full going into next week. Sometimes you’ve got a week 1 opponent that’s not that strong, but that’s not the case with these guys.”
We then asked if he’d ever been around a team that struggled with 7 new starters on defense early in the year become as dominate as this year’s Black Flag Defense has the last 4 weeks.
“No, I think the improvement from week 1 to now is tremendous. Now again, and we’ve said this and some fans just said yeah, you’re just saying that, but with the talent we were playing, it was what was best for us. Otherwise, we would have had a false sense of security and would not have made a lot of the moves we made and pushed people to get better and so forth. The guys have just really tightened it up. They’re playing with a lot of aggressiveness right now and confidence, which you have to. If you’re going to play defense, you’ve got to play with a swagger.”
The Mirror then asked if the starting lineups were set based on how the team is playing currently.
“Not at this point, but every now and then you switch something let’s say if you’re in a 12-personnel versus 11, so you’d have a tight end and a fullback versus 3 or 4 wide receivers. That’s more just game plan and stuff. Right now we’re rolling with what we’re doing and it’s working well and we’ll just keep on pushing.”
We pointed out the fact that the Bucks have now gone two games in a row without a false start and wanted Coach Metzel’s thoughts on that accomplishment.
“Well, it shows a focus, you know and that’s a credit to the senior leadership. That’s a credit to the guys going ‘we’ve got to play at another level.’ They’re locking in better in practice and at the end of practices, we’re going ‘hey, men, that’s what we’re looking for right there. You’re getting to where we want.’ When you start stacking days like that and then weeks like that, then your proficiency level goes up, so that’s good.
We also asked the coach if even he didn’t know the team would be this good at the end of the regular season.
“Yeah, you never really know when you’re starting a year (how good you will get to be) . I knew we had explosive people. When you have people that are as fast and are as good with the ball and that sort of thing, you know you have potential, but you hate to even go there, and so just seeing it play out, that’s exciting.”
We asked if he felt that this team is as good as any he’s fielded as head coach and that they had a chance to go all the way.
“Correct, and we’ll take it one week at a time, but yes, there’s no reason to not make that part of the journey and we will embrace that and we’re working towards that, absolutely.”
We concluded by asking Coach Metzel for anything else he’d like to add about the game, and he said, “I’m just so proud for the seniors. It was just so emotional for them coming out here tonight, the way they made plays, the way they rooted for their teammates when they got to get it. It was just a lot of selflessness, which is what we teach. They put it on display tonight and it was beautiful to watch.”
With the big win Gilmer moves to 7-3 on the season and heads on to Bi-District action Friday night against the Center Roughriders who finished third in their district. The game will be played at Hallsville Bobcat Stadium at 7 PM. Gilmer will be the home team for the contest. According to Coach Metzel tickets will be $7 and District passes, Buckeye Senior Citizen Orange Cards, THSC and Military passes will be accepted for the game.