By Phillip Williams
HENDERSON–Beset by two early-game fumbles which mired them with a 14-0 deficit, the Gilmer Buckeyes toted up a 22-14 lead at twirling time, then had to weather an eleventh-hour surge to hamstring the Henderson Lions, 22-20, in a dramatic rainy Friday night contest which was more of a Dance of Defense than the score indicates.
The early giveaways, coupled with Gilmer’s disgorging another fumble that led to the hosts’ final TD late in the tussle, kept a largely inept Henderson offense in the wargame–and ’twas only when Buckeye Rohan Fluellen filched a pass from Henderson QB Donovan Davis in Gilmer territory with about a minute left that the issue was settled.
Perhaps due to the wetness, Gilmer fumbled away the opening kickoff at its 39, leading the Lions to hit the bullseye on the fifth play afterward. Davis, who would later be repeatedly sacked like groceries by a ferocious Gilmer defense during much of the first half, unleashed a 6-yard TD throw to Bryson Collins before Jim Jose airlifted the PAT with 9:49 left in the opening quarter.
Almost unbelievably, on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Gilmer proceeded to dispense another fumble on a bad snap to quarterback Brandon Tennison–a miscue which had momentarily catastrophic consequences for the visitors. Lion defender Decorrian Walton picked up the pigskin and thundered 45 yards to Beulah Land.
Jose bopped the PAT with 9:30 still left in the first chapter, but just when it appeared the hosts might romp to a rout, the Buckeyes gallantly not only halted their bleeding (till late in the tilt), but inflicted some wounds themselves.
Gilmer whipped up a splendid kickoff return to the Henderson 41, and, abetted by a 5-yard penalty, trooped to a TD in eight plays. Jaron Choyce procured the points on a 2-yard run with 5:50 left in the first period before Gilmer sprang subterfuge on the hosts, running the ancient “swinging gate” play on which Davion Smith ran for two points.
As it turned out, those two points proved the difference in the eventual result.
The Lions bounced their way to the Gilmer 16 on their next offensive, only to have Buckeye defender Marshae Spraglin purloin a pass. Opening from its 22, Gilmer then crafted another trip to TD territory in seven plays with Tennison tossing a 4-yard scoring sling to Parker Gilow on the second quarter’s first play.
Jose Hernandez clanged the first of his two successful PATs with 11:53 left to intermission.
Suddenly trailing 15-14, the Lions tramped from their 29 to the Buckeye 22, only to lose a cumulative total of 18 yards on three plays and end up punting a mere four yards out of bounds. Tennison suffered a fourth-down interception afterward, but after a stupefying 66-yard Lion punt near half’s end to the visitors’ 11 seemed to pin Gilmer with foul field position in the half’s dying moments, the Buckeyes pole vaulted from the hole in two long heaves by Tennison, including a 48-yard TD to Spraglin.
The visitors lined up to go for two, but sustained a penalty before the kick made it 22-14 with 18.7 seconds leff to Band Time. And just as the game’s opening minutes had falsely looked ominous for Gilmer, the surge of scoring in the first half wrongly appeared to presage several more TDs in the second.
In fact, both offenses found themselves stymied until Tennison suddenly fumbled away at his 22 with 4:12 left in the tilt. A 21-yard pass, followed by a 5-yard Henderson penalty, prepared the track for D’Cameron Walker’s 6-yard scoring sortee with 3:40 left.
Now it was time for both sides to hold their collective breath as Henderson sought a tying two-point conversion. But Davis suffered yet another frustration when he was corraled by Buckeye Jett Jones in running toward the goal line.
The Lions got another chance by forcing a Gilmer punt with 1:48 left, only to see a penalty negate a 44-yard touchdown pass on the next play. Henderson managed to reach the Buckeye 30, only to see Rohan Fluellen’s interception off Davis with about a minute left prove lethal to the Lions.
Gilmer, winner of its first two fracases under new Head Coach Alan Metzel, visits Atlanta next week.
Friday’s game had some surrounding oddities as no game programs were printed, and spectators had their temperatures checked before entering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.