By Phillip Williams
For a few moments Friday night, it appeared that the favored Gilmer Buckeyes might have a dismaying debacle on their hands as the flabbergasting first play from scrimmage left them saying “We’re playing the Liberty-Eylau…I mean the Liberty Uh-Oh.”
L-E lofted a stupefying 72-yard scoring sling on the game’s first play from scrimmage. But, buoyed by 31 unanswered points starting late in the first half, unvanquished Gilmer lacerated the Liberty-Eylau Leopards, 59-20, in a District 7-4A Division II drumfire dustup Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium.
Though eventually lopsided, the tilt featured many Big Bangs from both sides. The Buckeyes scored TDs on an interception return and punt return and recovered two of their own kickoffs, while Leopard quarterback Jaydin Hampton heaved three first-half TDs, including two long-distance nuclear missiles.
Meantime, Gilmer runner Ashton Haynes hoofed for three TDs, while teammate Rohan Fluellen tallied twice and quarterback Cadon Tennison tossed two touchdowns.
The triumph lifted Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes to 6-0 overall, 2-0 in district disputations, going into this Friday’s 7:30 p.m. loop tilt at North Lamar. L-E listed to 5-2, 1-1.
After L-E made a fair catch on the opening kickoff, Hampton immediately zipped the aforementioned TD throw to Telly Wells, momentarily stunning the Buckeyes with 11:48 left in the first period. Only 12 seconds had ticked off the game clock.
But the next play proved more of an omen of things to come than the Big Bopper pass had. The Buckeyes overran the L-E kicker before he could boot the PAT, leaving it 6-0.
Gilmer was held on downs on its opening offensive, but eventually revved up its motor after holding the Leopards on downs, too. Abetted by a 3-yard Leopard penalty (half the distance to the goal), the Buckeyes hopped 75 yards in four plays to tally on Haynes’ three-yard zip to the left.
Jose Govea airlifted the first of his eight successful PATs (he also made his only field goal attempt late in the tilt) to lift Gilmer up 7-6 with 6:45 left in the inaugural period.
Then, just as the Leopards had stunned Gilmer early on, the Buckeyes bewildered the visitors by successfully kicking off onside. This led to a 48-yard TD offensive with the super-speedy Will Henderson whooshing 21 yards up the middle to procure the points with 5:18 left in the eventful first period.
The Buckeye offense continued tallying TDs early in the second quarter, roaring 63 yards in just two plays after the visitors punted. Tennison and Fluellen toted up a Dandy Doozy of their own, connecting on a 61-yard throw in which Fluellen broke a tackle, cut across the field to his left and reached Beulah Land.
Then, just when it looked like this might immediately become a Buckeye Blowout, the Leopards showed they were far from finished.
Taking the kickoff, L-E bounded 66 yards in only two plays as Hampton flung another fabulous feat, a 63-yarder to Dequane Prevo. However, the quarterback’s throw for two points failed, leaving it 21-12 with 9:17 left to intermission.
Soon, though, the visitors had to punt from their 1-yard line, and Fluellen flummoxed them with a 35-yard return for a TD with 6:15 left to Music Time. The PAT made it 28-12.
L-E’s aerial artistry, however, tormented the Buckeyes one last time before the half ended.
The visitors took the kickoff and whipped 56 yards in only four plays as Hampton dispatched a 21-yard TD to Wells, who caught it when a Gilmer defender tipped the ball into his hands.
Then Hampton sent a successful two-point conversion pass to W.T. Jones, making it 28-20 with 4:46 to go before the break.
Now it looked as if this might turn into a real firefight. If there is such a thing, however, as a turning point in a 59-20 game, it may well have occurred as the half was running out.
Buckeye Cade Bowman retaliated for Hampton’s trio of TD tosses by purloining a pass from the L-E quarterback and returning it a pulse-pounding 88 yards to score with but 18 seconds left to Twirling Time, when Gilmer would lead 35-20.
Bowman’s father was Gilmer High School principal for several years until this year, when he took a job as a high school principal at a faraway school. But the younger Bowman has remained enrolled in Gilmer ISD, and the Leopards likely wish he had gone to his father’s new locale.
The Leopards would also probably have been quite shocked to know that after putting up 20 first-half points, they were done scoring for the evening–and that Gilmer was far from through doing so. The Buckeyes would bang out 24 second-half points as the visitors abruptly disintegrated, their ability to score on long Hampton heaves having disappeared.
The hosts required little time to begin their second-half deluge as Fluellen returned the second-half kickoff to the 50 and, on the second play afterward, Haynes thundered 46 yards to TD Territory with 11:09 left in the third quarter.
After another Leopard punt, Gilmer scooted 38 yards in six plays to produce points on Tennison’s 7-yard airmail package to Eliez Castillo with 7:40 left in the third.
In another of many stunning developments on this night, the Buckeyes then recovered their own kickoff deep in L-E territory at the 28 when a Leopard simply failed to get the ball. Gilmer nonetheless had to work for its final TD, requiring six plays to hit the jackpot on Haynes’ 4-yard bop with 5:49 left in the third.
The contest safely in hand, quarterback Tennison would take the fourth quarter off. But Gilmer posted some final points as the sure-footed Govea rammed a 21-yard field goal with 7:48 left to go.
The Leopards had started the game with a fruitful fling. But on this night, they eventually debunked the adage that a leopard can’t change its spots.