By Phillip Williams
TYLER–On a night fit for neither man nor Rusk Eagle, Gilmer Buckeyes running back Ashton Haynes discovered that rain and wind were conducive to conquest as he hoofed for three TDs and unvanquished Gilmer repudiated Rusk, 25-7, in Friday’s Class 4A Division II bi-district bash.
Despite being held to their lowest point total this season, and starting quarterback Cadon Tennison missing much of the wargame after suffering an ankle sprain, the Buckeyes stultified the usually potent Rusk offense led by quarterback Aiden McCown, son of a former NFL field general. Rusk got its only TD on an interception return.
Highlights–if one can call them that–of the sparsely-attended tilt at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium’s Earl Campbell Field was the havoc the elements evidently wreaked on the teams’ passing and kicking games.
Only one TD toss was thrown all night as Rusk dropped at least four McCown passes, Gilmer filched three of his throws, and the Eagles picked off Tennison twice.
The teams also spent much of the evening punting, with many of the kicks traveling less than 20 yards. A press box observer’s cell phone showed wind gusting at 13 miles per hour at one point.
Meantime, almost-always reliable Gilmer kicker Jose Govea missed three of his four PATs and a field goal attempt, though the snapping and/or holding may have had something to do with at least some of his misfires.
Haynes hopped two yards for his first TD trek with 2:12 left in the first quarter, followed by Govea’s only successful PAT airlift. The scoring offensive covered 47 yards in nine plays–eight rushes and an incompletion.
Govea’s kicking woes began when he booted wide right on a 32-yard field goal attempt with 10:02 left in the second period. Haynes, however, hastened seven yards up the middle for another score with 8:15 left to the break.
On that TD offensive, Gilmer whipped 55 yards in only three plays after Tennison ,who’d been injured with 3:07 left in the opening quarter, temporarily returned to the fray. On the play before the touchdown, he dispatched a 46-yard pass to Ke’Vion Brinkley–by far the longest air play of the evening.
Govea’s PAT try went into the line, leaving it 13-0.
Rusk went 3-and-out, punted only 14 yards, and the Buckeyes stampeded 43 yards to TD territory in only four plays. Tennison flung a 25-yarder to star receiver Rohan Fluellen with 5:05 left to Music Time, and Rusk blocked the PAT kick.
Up 19-0, it might have appeared the Buckeyes were en route to a typical lopsided triumph, but Rusk soon sprang its one moment of real glory.
Right after the Eagles had surrendered the pigskin on downs at the Buckeye 31, defender Spencer Barnett purloined a pass from Tennison and whizzed 30 yards for a TD with only 54 seconds remaining to intermission.
Alan Rojo boomed the PAT, leaving it 19-7 at Twirling Time. The Rusk band took the field, as did the Gilmer drill team, but the Gilmer band played from the stands while some students held up American and military flags on the wet field in a Veterans Day-themed performance.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles halted the Buckeyes on downs at the Rusk 8, only to soon suffer a pratfall which quickly led to the game’s final score. Fluellen swiped a McCown pass, giving Gilmer possession at the Eagle 15.
On the next play, with backup quarterback Jaden Edmond at the helm, Haynes showed great footwork in invading the end zone with 9:09 left. After a high snap, Govea’s PAT failed again.
Gilmer (10-0) now confronts Gainesville in Playoff Paradise’s second round at 7 p.m. Friday at Mesquite’s Memorial Stadium. Rusk reached the checkered flag with a record of 6-5, finding that Haynes thrived in the rains.