By Phillip Williams
MESQUITE–Just as their foes were closing in on them like bloodhounds, the Gilmer Buckeyes’ Jayden Griffin staged a stupefying 88-yard return of a kickoff–which a teammate had muffed–for a traumatizing TD as Gilmer gored the Godley Wildcats, 42-20, in a Class 4A Division II area playoff Thursday night at E.H. Hanby Stadium.
The triumph boosted first-year Head Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes (11-1) into a third-round Playoff Paradise contest against Sunnyvale at 2 p.m. Friday in Athens.
Trailing 21-13 at twirling time and 28-13 at third quarter’s conclusion, Godley had just sliced its deficit to 28-20 when Griffin pulled the show-stopper with 10:36 left in the contest. The bedazzled Wildcats (7-5) never recovered as the Buckeyes went on to add another seven unanswered points.
One pressbox observer cited Griffin’s feat as one of two pivotal plays in a game where the Wildcats’ chances remained viable up until the last half of the fourth period. The other–the game’s lone turnover–occurred late in the second quarter when Buckeye defender Marshae Spraglin purloined a pass from Godley quarterback Caden Burke in the Gilmer end zone, thus snuffing a promising Wildcat offensive which had reached the Buckeyes’ 22 yard line.
Ironically, it was Burke’s proficient passing which had kept Godley afloat as its rushing attack did relatively little damage and its defense was victimized by land and air. Buckeye quarterback Brandon Tennison shot two TD passes to star receiver Dylan Fluellen in the first half, while runner Jaron Choyce trooped for two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Godley started out more ablaze than a six-alarm fire, receiving the opening kickoff and motoring 89 yards to tally with an up-tempo assault, mostly on the strength of Burke’s able arm. His 19-yard TD toss to Drew Coleman on a fourth-down play opened the scoring, and Trysten Hutton airlifted the PAT with 8:44 left in the first period.
Godley discovered, however, that Gilmer could deploy a rapid response team as the Buckeyes scooted 58 yards on their opening offensive to reach Beulah Land on Tennison’s 12-yard heave to Fluellen. Kicker Jose Hernandez clanged the first of his six successful PATs with 6:47 left in the opening quarter.
Gilmer leaped ahead on runner Davion Smith’s 21-yard scoring sortee with 10:22 left to intermission before Tennison flung a 35-yard TD to Fluellen with 8:55 left to the break. Now down 21-7, Godley would soon climb off the canvas, however.
Burke dispatched a 1-yard fourth-down TD pass to Parker Priddy with 6:03 remaining till Band Time, but the Buckeyes blocked Hutton’s PAT kick and then counter-attacked early in the second half. Taking the kickoff, Gilmer thundered 51 yards as Choyce bopped three yards for the TD with 10:33 left in the third quadrant.
Godley commendably returned fire as Burke charged a yard up the middle to score and the PAT brought the Wildcats to within 28-20 with 10:53 remaining in the game. It was at that point, however, that Griffin waylaid the Wildcats with the stultifying score that proved somewhat of a knockout blow.
Choyce then left Godley no choice except to try to overcome a somewhat massive lead in the game’s final minutes as he hoofed a yard for the last TD with 5:17 left. Curiously, Godley ran the ball on several plays thereafter and appeared in no particular hurry to try to come back, ending its final thrust by running out of downs at the Gilmer 34 shortly before the winners ran out the clock.