By Phillip Williams
ARLINGTON–‘Twas not so very long ago that the Gilmer Buckeyes, afflicted with a tottering defense which yielded points by the megaton, appeared about as probable to procure their fourth state championship as bovines would be to buy stock in Burger King.
Perennial power Gilmer lost its first two wargames of the season for the first time in more than 20 years. At mid-season, the team was 3-3 after being bludgeoned by Pleasant Grove in the squads’ district opener. And in three of those games (including one the Buckeyes won), Gilmer had yielded anywhere from 62-71 points each.
Things looked about as hopeful as being able to find a water fountain in Hell, although Gilmer’s offense was racking up plentiful points itself.
And then, Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes performed the unthinkable, tallying 10 straight triumphs to win the Loving Cup, including a stupefying upset of their old nemesis Carthage–which had 29 consecutive conquests under its belt, and hadn’t lost to Gilmer in eight years before the Buckeyes unseated the defending state champ bedeviling Bulldogs in Playoff Paradise’s fourth round.
Eventually came Friday afternoon at AT&T Stadium and again, Gilmer appeared to several gridiron soothsayers to be en route to the electric chair as, with a 12-3 mark, it had to confront 15-0 Bellville–which possessed both an overpowering offense and dismaying dismantling defense.
Although Gilmer runner/receiver Will Henderson was named the contest’s most valuable offensive player as the team’s workhorse, Buckeye quarterback Cadon Tennison heaved two TDs and hoofed for another as Gilmer rode a flummoxing first-half tide of touchdowns to bedevil the Bellville Brahmas, 28-26, for the state Class 4A Division II state championship Friday.
It was a drama that was still in doubt till late in the struggle.
To paraphrase the book title “A Tale of Two Cities,” the tussle was a tale of two distinctly diverse halves. In the first, the teams toted up electrifying long-distance touchdowns in an Ode to Offense, leaving Gilmer up 28-20 at Twirling Time with neither team having punted.
In the second half, though, the dustup became a Duel of Defense as the lone score was a Bellville TD late in the third quarter. However, the Brahmas succumbed by suffering a shortfall in securing a two-point conversion.
Despite being able to somewhat stymie Gilmer’s normally overwhelming offense by holding it uncharacteristically scoreless in the final 24 minutes, Bellville got its bell rung by the Buckeyes’ first-half tornado of touchdowns.
Just as critical, Gilmer took a Brahma punt and managed to burn up the game’s final 6:47 with a 13-rushing play possession that ended at the Bellville 11 yard-line on a kneeldown after the Buckeyes tromped to the 6 on the game’s next-to-final play.
That consigned Bellville’s landlubbing offense, which threw only three passes all livelong day (including a TD and an interception), to watch helplessly from the sidelines as Gilmer drained the clock.
The Brahmas had used two of their three time outs earlier in the half, which likely was a key factor in their downfall as the Buckeyes steadily moved the ball, albeit without scoring, leaving the Brahmas able to stop the clock only once.
At his post-game press conference, Bellville Coach Grady Rowe blamed “(two) turnovers (and) penalties that we haven’t really done all year” as factors in the outcome. Metzel, though, while acknowledging “turnovers are always big,” added “We had a number of penalties, too. I wouldn’t put it (the blame for Bellville losing) on that.”
The Gilmer coach, who lost state title bouts in 2020 and 2021 in his first two seasons as the Buckeye boss, said his once-woeful “defense stepped up”and kept getting the Brahmas off the field. He also said his team was “galvanized” by the Nov. 4 slayings of player Geramiah Noble’s mother and aunt, apparently meaning the Buckeyes rallied around Noble, who did play Friday.
Personnel changes were also made during the course of the season, Metzel said. Some of his gridders who played Friday had been on the junior varsity and freshman squads earlier in the year, he pointed out.
On Friday, Gilmer took the opening kickoff and yielded the ball on downs at the Brahma 36. After a 3-yard run and 5-yard Bellville penalty, the Brahmas’ Sam Hranicky suddenly screamed 66 yards downfield to Beulah Land.
Fernanado Grajales banged the PAT with 8:06 leff in the first quarter.
Gilmer soon counter-attacked by taking the kickoff and plodding 65 yards to score, abetted by a 15-yard penalty. Tennison, who threw a ton of quick out passes before halftime, uncorked an 8-yard TD throw to Brendan Webb with 5:15 left in the inaugural period, and Brayden Pate airlifted the first of four successful PATs.
Bellville soon dispensed one of its turnovers as DD Murray fumbled to Webb (named the game’s defensive MVP) at the Brahma 28. On the seventh play afterward, Tennison shot two yards for the TD with 1:08 still remaining in the quarter.
Bellville fired back soon enough, though, as, on the second quarter’s first play, Quarterback Zach Leuschner lofted one of his rare passes to Murray, who pulled away from a Buckeye defender grabbing his jersey for a flabbgasting 72-yard TD.
But in what may have well been a pivotal play, the Buckeyes blocked Grajales’ PAT kick, leaving Gilmer up 14-13 with 11:47 to Band Time.
Later in the period, the Brahmas sustained another blow when, after reaching the Gilmer 12, they saw Webb purloin a pass from Leuschner in the end zone with 3:31 left in the period. And like Bellville’s first turnover, this one would lead to a Buckeye Big Bang.
Gilmer scooted 80 yards in five plays as the faster-than-the-speed-of-light Henderson thundered 65 yards for a TD with exactly two minutes left to intermission, starting a wild flurry of points near half’s end.
After Bellville returned the ensuing kickoff to its 34, it took only three plays to counter-punch when Hranicky, showing blazing speed of his own, suddenly whizzed 58 yards to the end zone.
Curiously, though down by two points at 21-19, the Brahmas settled for another Grajales PAT kick after being penalized five yards on the conversion with 1:04 remaining to the break.
Gilmer returned the kickoff to its 29 and didn’t choose to run out the clock as, on the second play afterward, Tennison sent a 69-yard TD to Ta’Erik Tate with 41 seconds still left to Drill Team Time.
The offenses were quieted after that with only a handful of big gains. Still, Bellville confiscated the second half’s only score when runner Corrian Hood bopped four yards with 2:26 left in the third before he unsuccessfully ran for two points–a stoppage that would come back to haunt his team.
Even Brahma Colin Goeke filching a fling from Tennision early in the fourth quarter at the Brahma 3 couldn’t reverse the tide.
And thus, to cite Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls”–on this Friday, the bell signifying finality of life indeed tolled for Bellville’s finality of wins.