By Elwyn Henderson
The #10 Gilmer Buckeyes took their 10-3 season record to CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler Friday night to take on the #1 Carthage Bulldogs in the Class 4A DII Region 2 Championship game with all the marbles on the table to advance to the State Semi-Finals.
Gilmer was hoping to break the 8-game winning streak that Carthage had in head-to-head meetings and they knew they would have to play an almost perfect game and get a break or two along the way to have a chance to pull off the upset of the century in Texas high school football. When the final seconds expired off the clock and the dust cleared, the Buckeyes did just that and took the victory and moved on to the Semi-Finals, capturing a 47-44 overtime win in a hard fought contest. The win moves the Bucks to 11-3 on the year.
The Buckeyes will face Glen Rose, a 45-13 upset winner over Canyon West Plains last Friday night. The victory moved Glen Rose to 10-4 on the year.
Carthage came into the game averaging 43.5 points per game and yielding on 11.8 points per game while Gilmer entered the matchup averaging 50.8 points per game and giving up 35.4 points per game according to Buckeye Historian Joe Dodd. It was obvious that something had to give and everyone knew the game would come down to whether or not Gilmer could hold Carthage on defense and whether the Buckeyes could crash their explosive offense though the stingy Bulldog defense. They managed to do enough to do just that and send the Gilmer crowd into pandemonium with uncontrolled excitement.
Dodd also said that IF the Buckeyes were able to pull off the upset win they would become just the 13th school in the State of Texas to win 100 playoff games. Another big stat was that Gilmer was 238-13 (95%) when scoring 30 or more points in a game since 2000, but only 39-37 (51%) when scoring less than 30 points in a game. Interestingly, the Bulldogs had held the Bucks below 30 points in 10 games since 2008, including seven consecutive games and Gilmer was 1-9 in those games. You knew IF the Gilmer offense could hang 30 on the Dawgs they could most likely win the game and that was exactly what happened!
Carthage received the opening kickoff to get things started after winning the coin toss. Brayden Pate kicked off to begin the game and the returner was dropped at the Carthage 31 after a 2-yard return.
Jett Surratt led the Bulldogs down the field and the Black Flag Defense stiffened at their 26, forcing a 4th and 13. A Surratt pass fell incomplete out of the end zone but Gilmer was called for a facemask moving the ball down to the 13 and giving the Bulldogs new life. They took full advantage, as on the ensuing play Kelwin “KJ” Edwards ran into the end zone for a TD from 13 yards out with 8:03 left in the first quarter. Leo Medrano hit the PAT and Carthage had an early 7-0 lead.
Following the kickoff and a return by Brendan Webb, Cadon Tennison brought the Gilmer offense out at their 33 for the Buckeyes first possession. It took nine plays and 4:37 for the Bucks to move the 67 yards and find the end zone for the first time with 3:26 left in the quarter. Will Henderson ran the final three yards to paydirt. Pate hit the extra point and the game was tied at 7-7.
Surratt brought his offense back on the field to work at his own 35. Carthage managed one first down and then the ball turned over on downs following an incomplete pass on the second series and Gilmer went back to work from their 26.
It took just four plays and 1:07 for Gilmer to move the 74 yards into the end zone for the second time with 11:17 left in the first half. Tennison hit Brendan Webb with a 40-yard TD pass which Webb caught with two defenders draped over him. Pate hit the extra point and Gilmer led 14-7.
Carthage began their next drive at their 30 after a return of Pate’s kickoff and took just 1 play to find the end zone for the second time as Surratt hit Bradan Manning on a 70-yard scoring strike that took just 22 seconds off the clock. Carson Crawford ran in for a 2-point conversion and the Bulldogs took a 15-14 lead with 10:33 left in the half.
Carthage forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Gilmer possession, but Gilmer got a break on Pate’s punt as the ball was fumbled at the Bulldog 41 and Jamar Byrd recovered for the Bucks at the Carthage 39.
Tennison and company took full advantage, getting into the end zone in eight plays and taking 2:19 off the clock. The score came on a 12-yard pass from Tennison to Ta’Erik Tate with 7:23 left in the first half of play. Pate’s kick was good and Gilmer led 21-15.
Carthage came right back on their next possession, moving the ball 70 yards in seven plays over 2:21. Surratt hit Manning for a 43-yard pass down to the Gilmer 5 and Edwards ran the TD in from the 5 with 5:02 left in the half. Medrano hit the extra point and Carthage led, 22-21.
The Buckeyes retook the lead, 24-22, just before halftime as Pate nailed a 23-yard field goal.
Carthage kicked off to begin the second half. Geramiah Noble fair caught the ball at the Gilmer 30 and the Bucks started from that point. On the second play of the possession Will Henderson got hit after a 9-yard gain and the ball popped out. Tylan Williams recovered for the Bulldogs at their 48.
On the second play of the possession Edwards clearly fumbled the ball but the officials said there was no fumble and the bad call resulted in Carthage going on a 52-yard TD drive that concluded with a 26-yard end around for a TD with 9:02 left in the third quarter. Medrano’s kick for the extra point was good and Carthage led 29-24.
Gilmer was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct and Carthage kicked off onside from the Gilmer 45. Gilmer recovered and after a personal foul against Carthage the Buckeyes started from their 48.
Tennison drove the offense 34 yards in eight plays and took 2:18 before Pate nailed a 31-yard field goal with 6:44 left in the third quarter, cutting the Bulldogs lead to 29-27.
Pate’s kickoff after the score went out of the end zone and the Dawgs began from their 34 on their next possession. On the second play of the possession Tennison was intercepted by Cole Nations at the Carthage 40.
On the first play of the drive Manning blasted for a 30-yard end around and two plays later Gilmer was called for pass interference moving the ball down to the Gilmer 6 with a first and goal. The Black Flag forced a 4th and goal from the 11, but Surratt hit Manning for an 11-yard scoring strike with 31 seconds left in the third stanza. Medrano added the extra point and the Buckeyes faced their biggest deficit of the game, down 36-27. The drive was six plays, 60 yards and took 2:17.
The Buckeyes began their next drive at their 30 and did exactly what they had to do; moving the 70 yards in eight plays in 2:36. The score came on a 23-yard pass from Tennison to Will Henderson with 9:55 left in the game. Pate added the extra point and Gilmer was back within two, trailing 36-24.
The Bulldog returner was nailed at the 25 and the Black Flag rose to the occasion and forced a three-and-out. After a 50-yard punt Gilmer set up on their 38 with 8:16 left in the game. The offense moved the ball down to the Bulldog 12 in 10 plays and 4:20. After the 50 yard drive Pate hit a 29-yard field goal with 4:26 left in the game, putting Gilmer up 37-36.
Carthage fair caught the next Pate kick and began at their 25. On the third play of the possession after a 31-yard run by Edwards, Henderson intercepted Surratt at the Gilmer 28 and returned the pick to the Bulldog 40.
Carthage turned up the heat on defense and Gilmer managed only four yards in three downs and faced a 4th and 6 from the 37. The Bucks made the decision to go for it and Tennison hit Tate for 10 yards and first down. Two plays later Tennison ran into the end zone from 25 yards out with 1:49 left in the game. Pate hit the extra point and Gilmer had their biggest lead of the game, 44-36.
The next Pate kick went into the end zone and the Bulldogs began at their 25 needing a TD and a 2-point conversion to tie.
Surratt came on the field with ice in his veins and moved his charges down the field and they scored a TD with 23 seconds left when Surratt threw a 3-yard TD pass to Mikel Fields, moving the score to 44-42. Then Surratt hit Cade Ross for a 2-point conversion and the game was tied, 44-44. The drive was seven plays, 75 yards and took 1:26.
Medrano kicked onside and Webb recovered the ball at the Gilmer 27.
Tennison brought the offense back out. He was dropped for a 6-yard loss as the clock expired in regulation play, sending the game to overtime.
Carthage won the coin toss and elected to go on defense to begin the OT. On fourth down Pate came in and kicked a 36-yard field goal putting Gilmer up 47-44.
The Bulldogs came in knowing if they could get a TD they would advance. Surratt gained a yard on the first play and on the second he took a hard hit from Davion King, fumbled the ball and Trey Lee recovered for the Buckeyes, locking up the 47-44 win.
We caught up with an ecstatic Gilmer Buckeye Head Coach Alan Metzel on the field after the game and asked if saying the win over the Bulldogs was the biggest win he had as head coach of the Buckeyes would be an understatement and he agreed that it would.
“That would be an understatement. That’s up there with the Gladewater, the Cuero and that was special. It’s one of those that I’ll have to watch after the season to even process it all. There were so many huge plays, so many pivotal, momentum-swinging times that it’ll just take a while to sink in, but the great thing is we’re moving on!”
We then asked him what he was thinking after the victory, and he replied, “What a blessing. I’m so humbled to get to do this for the administration, they’re amazing; our town. What an incredible atmosphere as a team doing what they did. I’m really just about run out of words.”
We also brought up that the team that sent the Bulldogs heading to the gym for basketball season was nothing resembling the 0-2 team they were after their first two games this season.
“We’re so far away (from that). This team, you could see tonight, we’ve moved into a different level of play. The physicality, the intensity that was big time. I’m thinking of the road to AT&T (Stadium for the State Championship) right now. I want to get locked in on Glen Rose. I can’t wait to start watching film and we’ve got work to do.”
The Army of Buckeyes showed up stronger than last week and they were into the game all the way, sensing that it was going to be a special night. We asked the coach his thoughts about their presence and actions in the stands.
“It was as electric to me as the game against Gladewater in Longview in 2014. It’s just so amazing to be a part of something like this. There are very few people that get a chance to have a moment like this and these guys will never forget something like that.”
We concluded by bringing up that the school had rallied around Geramiah Noble and dedicating the rest of the season to him and we asked how much we asked if that played a part in the win over Carthage.
“Absolutely, and it’s like what we said about Gilmer before. When Gilmer gets punched we rally together and it’s the finest of the community that’s coming together. It’s called love and people shut down all the things that separate us and they just pour into each other and that’s what you’re seeing in our school, our team, our community, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
The coach added one more comment that was very fitting for the moment. He said, “Thank God for the ‘W’ and I can’t wait for next week!” Neither can the Army of Buckeyes!
We also caught up with Defensive Coordinator Tommy Edwards after the game and asked him if this defense is now as good as it has been in the last three or four years.
“It’s close but I can tell you this. It’s definitely one of our best coaching jobs that we’ve done in a long time and it’s just been nonstop because we didn’t want to be what we started. When we started we said it’s gotta change and the kids bought in, the coaches bought in and we just kept grinding and grinding and grinding and we just built it brick by brick.”
We pointed out they beat the #1 team in the state who was going after their 10th state championship under Scott Surratt that the team beat and asked how big it was.
“It was huge and the kids just kept battling and we kept preaching ‘they’re going to make plays, they’re too good. You’re not going to make plays, you’re not going to get the calls, but don’t think about that; just play the next play’ and our kids just battled their tails off and played the next play and it was obvious that we were gonna have to grind for four quarters.”
We finished up our visit by asking if he felt the game might have been for the state championship.
“It was a heck of a game, I can put it that way, but you’ve still got to play the next game and anybody’s capable on any given night. It was a huge win for our program and we’re just lucky and thankful that we get to play the next week.”
Congratulations again, Buckeyes. Let’s keep this train rolling on to Jerry World on Dec. 15 and bring another state championship back to Gilmer!!