By Elwyn Henderson
The 7-3 Gilmer Buckeyes began their 2023 playoff run Friday night in Hallsville when they took on the Center Roughriders. Gilmer was favored by 10 points in the game, but the improving Black Flag Defense held the ‘Riders under their average scoring of just over 50 points per game and walked off the field with a big win, 69-42 in a game not nearly as close as the score might indicate. Gilmer now moves to 8-3 on the year and moves on to face Sunnyvale, a 47-7 victor over Krum. Sunnyvale will come into the game with a 9-2 season record after the win. The game will be played Thursday night at 7PM at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Stadium in Tyler. Sunnyvale will be the home team for the contest and Gilmer will be the visitors. Ticket price will be $7.
According to Gilmer Buckeye football historian Joe Dodd, Friday’s meeting was just the twelfth time the two teams have met in the 110 year history of Buckeye football. Gilmer led the all-time series 10-1 going into the contest, winning 27-6 in 1926, 20-6 in 1928, and their only loss came in 1952, 27-13. They won 6-0 in 1953, 27-0 in 1954, 18-0 in 1955, 64-6 in 2006, 63-6 in 2007 and 36-21 in the playoffs in 2015 and again in 2016 (70-21) and 2017 (56-17) in the regular season.
To indicate just how great a dynasty the Buckeyes have turned into, this is the 23rd consecutive year for Gilmer to make the playoffs. They are 67-19 in playoffs since 2001, which is 78%. They are 19-3 in first round playoff games since 2001, or 83%. All-time in playoff games, Gilmer is 95-33-1, and those 95 playoff wins are 12th most in Texas high school football history.
To begin Friday night’s action, Center won the opening coin toss and elected to receive. Brayden Pate kicked off for Gilmer and the ball was fair caught at the Center 34. Thanks to a false start and a rushing Buckeye defense Center had to punt on the next series and after the kick Cadon Tennison brought the Buckeye offense out for their first possession at their 35.
It took just 4 plays and 1:10 for Gilmer to move the 65 yards into the end zone for the first TD of the game. The score came on a 48-yard TD run by Will Henderson with 9:24 left in the quarter. Pate’s PAT kick was good and Gilmer led 7-0.
Not to be outdone, Center came right back down the field with a 4-play, 65-yard drive that took just 1:22. Carlos Hernandez kicked the extra point and the game was tied 7-7 with 8:23 left in the quarter.
Gilmer’s next drive started on their 30 and it was a quick three-and-out and Pate nailed a 51-yard punt down to the Center 11. The ‘Riders moved the 89 yards into the end zone in 8 plays and took 2:26. The score came on a 3-yard TD run by Jermaine Hunter with 4:02 left in the opening frame. The PAT kick was blocked and a Buckeye picked up the ball and was hit and lost the ball. It rolled backwards and another Buckeye recovered in the end zone and was touched down by a Center player, resulting in a VERY RARE 1-point safety, leaving the score 14-7 in favor of the visitors.
The Buckeyes began their next drive on their 26 and took just 4 plays and 59 seconds to find the end zone for the second time. The score came on a 7-yard run by Henderson with 3:03 left in the first frame. A 2-point try out of the swinging gate by Aron Bell was no good, but Gilmer closed the gap to 14-13.
Center began their drive on their 19 after a 15-yard return. They picked up one first down but the Black Flag forced a punt on the second series. After a punt down to the Gilmer 39 the offense took the field again and began a non-stop barrage.
Jaden Edmond came in at quarterback on the possession and he led the offense on a 2-play, 61-yard TD drive that took a mere 47 seconds. Edmond was dropped for a 10-yard loss on the first play and then he threw a screen pass to Henderson for a 71-yard score with 32 seconds left in the quarter. Pate split the uprights on the extra point and Gilmer led 20-14.
Center picked up one first down on their next possession and then the Black Flag forced another punt that went 42 yards all the way down to the 3.
Unfazed by their starting point, the took just 2 plays and 1:05 to move the 97 yards for their third TD of the night. Henderson ran for 20 on the first play before the Bucks were penalized 5 yards for a false start and then Dhrvay Smith ran 82 yards to pay dirt with 9:46 left in the first half of play. Pate was true on the kick and the Buckeye lead moved to 27-14.
After a fair catch of Pate’s kickoff, the ‘Riders began at their 25. They picked up one first down and then an incomplete pass on 4th down of the next series turned the ball over on downs to the Buckeyes at the Gilmer 44.
Tennison came back into the game and led his charges on a quick 2-play drive, moving the 56 yards into the end zone in just 15 seconds. Brendan Webb rushed for 12 on the first play and Henderson followed that up with a 44-yard TD run with 7:03 left in the half. Pate’s PAT kick was good and the lead advanced to 34-16.
Center began their next drive at their 25. They ran 10 plays and were forced to punt again by the Black Flag. The punt traveled 33 yards down to the Gilmer 11 where Tennison brought the offense back on the field..
This time the Bucks had their longest drive of the night up to that point, taking 3:18 and 9 plays to move the 89 yards for another touchdown. The score came with 7:41 left in the half. Pat’s extra point kick was good once again, and the laugher was on with Gilmer leading 41-14.
Cash Cross led his charges on a 7-play drive that ended with a 49-yard Hernandez field goal hitting the upright and bouncing back out onto the end zone, resulting in the kick being no good with one second left in the half. Edmond took a knee and the first half came to a close with Gilmer in total command, 41-14.
The Roughriders kicked the ball away to begin the second half. The Hernandez kick went out of the end zone and Gilmer started the second half at their 25.
Edmond brought the offense on the field and they moved methodically down the field on one of the most time-consuming drives of the season for the Buckeyes. The possession was 15 plays, 75 yards and took 5:44. The score came on a 5-yard run by Henderson with 6:16 left in the third period. Pate nailed the extra point and the lead advanced to 48-14.
The Roughriders began their next possession at their 48. They moved the 52 yards in 9 plays and took 2:26 off the third quarter clock. The score came on a 1-yard TD run by Kaden Dixon with 3:50 left in the quarter. The extra point was blocked and Jamar Byrd picked it up and ran it all the way down to the Center 3 before being run out of bounds, making the score 48-20.
Edmond led the Buckeyes on a 2-play, 75 yard drive that took 54 seconds. The score came on a 74-yard run by Smith with 2:56 left in the quarter. Pate’s kick was good and Gilmer led 55-20.
Center came back down the field on their next possession, moving 68 yards in 8 plays and taking 2:39 off the clock. The score came on a 12-yard TD pass from Cross to Lane Wilburn with 17 seconds left in the third period. A 2-point conversion run by Cross was good, bringing the score to 55-28.
The Bucks had to punt the ball away on the third series of their next possession, and Center took over on their 26. On the seventh play the ball was fumbled and Gilmer recovered at the Center 32.
Tennison took just 3 plays to get the Bucks in the end zone again. The score came on a 20-yard TD pass from Tennison Ta’Erik Tate with 7:06 left in the game. Pate’s kick was good and Gilmer led 62-28.
Center refused to give up and Wilburn returned the ensuing Pate kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown with 6:53 left in the game. The extra point was fumbled, leaving the score 61-28.
Gilmer began their next drive on the Center 47. They moved the 47 yards in 6 plays over 2:43. The score came on a 7-yard run by Daydrion Jimmerson with 4:10 left in the game. Miguel Casteneda kicked the extra point and Gilmer led 69-34.
Following a 37-yard kickoff return after the score, the Roughriders set up on their 43. Cross led his team on one final scoring drive, as they moved the 67-yards to the end zone in 4 plays, taking 1:41 to get the final TD of the game. The score came on a pass from Cross to Timothy Johnson with 2:29 left in the contest. Cross ran in for a 2-point conversion, bringing the score to 69-42 in favor of the Buckeyes.
An onside attempt was recovered by Gilmer at their 46. Edmond took a knee from the victory formation twice and the game ended with the victorious Buckeyes moving on to the Area round.
Henderson wound up with 202 yards on 18 carries and Smith added 197 yards on nine carries. Total offense came to 664 yards, 510 on the ground and 154 through the air.
We talked with a very happy Coach Alan Metzel after the game and we began by pointing out the final score was not indicative of the game, to which he replied, “No, I agree. You go back to the middle of the third quarter and that was more what it was. We started getting guys in and it is what it is. I’m glad we guys experience in a playoff game. We’re going to need them somewhere down the road.”
We asked the coach in light of the offense getting more dominant each week just how much better they can get.
“I’ll tell you what—I was so pleased with how the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. That’s what excites you when you start seeing that. We know the guys we’ve got. They’re just so talented and those guys were moving the line of scrimmage and creating huge holes. It’s exciting to see that kind of execution.”
Buckeye fans were puzzled as to HOW Center got 1-point on their extra point attempt that was blocked by Gilmer. There is a little known rule that very rarely comes into play that was enforced when a Buckeye tried to advance the ball after the block. The football came loose and bounced backwards toward the Gilmer end zone. Eventually, the good guys recovered the ball but a Roughrider downed the player that resulted in a 1-point safety. Since it was an extra point safety, it only counted for 1 point instead of the usual 2 points a team is awarded for a safety.
We asked Coach Metzel his thoughts on the rare event, and he said, “Yeah, that was pretty bizarre. I’ve never seen that in a game. You know, it was just kind of one of those quirky things. I don’t even mind that our guy was trying to lateral it because he might could have gone and scored (2 points). It’s just kind of a weird deal and you just kinda shake it off and move on.”
We also wanted to know the coach’s thoughts about the blocked extra point attempt that Jamar Byrd grabbed and ran back to the Center 3 before being knocked out of bounds.
“It was a great effort on his part; great effort on Will Henderson’s part (blocking on the run) and great credit to number 4 (Cross) for chasing him down. It’s just one of those plays. It would have been fun to have gotten those 2, but I’ll take 69. We’re good!”
Additionally, we asked what defensive changes the team made after Center’s first 14 points to shut number 32, Kaden Dixon down the rest of the game.
“Coach Edwards worked on some of the fits. It wasn’t so many schemes as we had to do a better job of closing up the gaps. They did a better job of that and we also did some things in the secondary that I thought was good; kind of under-playing 18 with one of our outside backers which took away where they could just get the ball out to him. And then I thought our corners did a good job of not letting him hit one of those fly patterns, the go routes. When you play in games like this you’re going to play against good teams. They’re going to make some plays and you’re got to be able to just stay calm and tweak it and be able to take it away and they ended up doing that.”
We also wanted to know how much he thought it helped to play against a tough opponent in the first round, which seldom ever happens.
“We’ve played good opponents all year. We played them early and we’ve got them again now. To me at this point, you’ve just got to think that every team is going to give you that kind of a matchup. We’re thankful that our guys played well and took care of business and we’re looking forward to moving to Round 2.”
Then we brought up the fact that the Buckeyes made it through the game without an injury, and he was very happy for that and replied, “Nobody injured and we’re healthy and ready to go get after it next week.”
We concluded by asking Coach Metzel for any final thoughts he had on the game.
“I’m just thrilled. You know, its exciting coming into the playoffs the last several weeks. We’ve been playing well but a lot of people have been going ‘yeah, but look who you’re playing,’ and those kinda things. Tonight I think let everybody know we’re ready to go. We’re excited!”
We want to brag on the Army of Buckeyes who made the short drive to Hallsville for the game. We had a better crowd than we have had in quite a while and they were into the game. Since this week’s game is just in Tyler, let’s have even more of the Army show up and show out and cheer the team on to another victory!