By Phillip Williams
ATHENS–‘Twas anything but a sunny day for the Sunnyvale Raiders, both football and weather-wise, in their playoff pratfall against the glistering Gilmer Buckeyes at Bruce Field on a gray Friday afternoon.
Gilmer toted up a 22-0 lead, snuffed a momentary Raider revival which pared that to 22-14, and darkened Sunnyvale, 31-14, in a Class 4A Division II regional semi-finals fray on an overcast, then rainy occasion.
The triumph launched first-year Head Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes (12-1) into a fourth-round Playoff Paradise regional final
pairing with unvanquished Caddo Mills (12-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Commerce’s Memorial Stadium.
Jaron Choyce had a major role in leaving the Raiders with no choice but losing as he tromped for two Buckeye TDs and a two-point conversion. Sunnyvale, meantime, set the plates for a pair of Gilmer touchdown treks with unsuccessful fourth-down conversion attempts.
The Raiders also fell on their swords partly by letting the Buckeyes, who ceded no turnovers, purloin two passes. Sunnyvale stayed in the contest somewhat because it drew only one penalty all afternoon, while the Buckeyes incurred at least a dozen penalized infractions–a situation that drew outraged vituperation from a number of Gilmer fans toward the officials.
Gilmer opened its scoring salvos by taking the opening kickoff and plodding 73 yards in a marathon 13-yard offensive in which the Buckeyes overcame two penalties totaling 25 yards. Runner Ashton Haynes procured the points by wheeling 14 yards before kicker Jose Hernandez airlifted the first of his three successful PAT kicks with 7:03 left in the opening quarter.
The Raiders barricaded themselves against further damage until after they threw an incompletion on a fourth-down try from the Buckeye 38 in the second quarter.
Surmounting a 10-yard penalty, Gilmer bounded to Beulah Land in six plays with Choyce rumbling the final four yards.
Gilmer then inflicted a two-point conversion on their foes as Choyce circled left end with 8:21 left to twirling time.
Yet another incompletion by the Raiders on fourth down from the Buckeye 27, which came with under six minutes left in the second quarter, opened the race track for Gilmer’s next TD. On the tenth play afterward, Choyce bopped two yards to tally with 2:42 left to music time.
In a 22-point abyss, the Raiders gallantly charged back after taking the ensuing kickoff. Abetted by a 15-yard Gilmer penalty, Sunnyvale promptly ingested 75 yards in 10 plays to tally when runner Jake Taylor took a snap in the wildcat formation, seemingly hit an iron wall, and rolled or bounced off it to the right to score from a yard out.
Jake Pecina banged the first of his two PATs with only six seconds remaining to intermission.
Perhaps galvanized by their late-in-the-half success, the Raiders took the second-half kickoff and made history repeat itself, motoring the same number of yards and plays as in their first touchdown trek, even tallying on yet another Taylor one-yard run from the wildcat. (A 14-yard pass interference penalty against Gilmer gave succor to this offensive).
Now, with 8:13 remaining in the third quarter, it was suddenly 22-14, but the Raiders’ rebound proved to be over.
After the squads exchanged punts, the Buckeye offense revved up again and swung 70 yards in eight plays for Gilmer’s final TD on quarterback Brandon Tennison’s 37-yard heave to Marshae Spraglin with 2:30 left in the third period.
The Gilmer “Black Flag Defense,” which claimed interceptions by Hernandez and Jayden Griffin during the contest, also taped on Gilmer’s final points–a safety which occurred when a snap went between quarterback Max McAda’s legs in his end zone, and he fell on the pigskin with 4:11 left.
Interestingly, on the free kick, the Raiders booted onside and recovered at their 26, only to eventually disgorge a fumble to the Buckeyes at the Sunnyvale 47. Gilmer then ran out the clock.
The Buckeyes’ cause probably reaped benefit from the fact that Gilmer fans strongly outnumbered Sunnyvale supporters. In addition, except for perhaps light sprinkling, predicted rain held off until around the final quarter’s start.
Ironically, though, the only parade which got rained on this afternoon was that of a team named Sunnyvale.