By Phillip Williams
GILMER–Although the Carthage Bulldogs left their band back home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that did not deter the defending state titleists from pillaging the previously unvanquished Gilmer Buckeyes into facing the music Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium.
Carthage, which had been able to play (and win) only one game because its schedule was devastated by the pandemic and a hurricane, toted up a 28-0 lead at twirling time, withstood a manic momentary Gilmer comeback in the third quarter, and bloodied the previously 4-0 Buckeyes, 42-14.
The Bulldogs’ methodical, time-devouring offense tallied touchdowns on each first-half possession while binding Gilmer’s usually-prolfic pointmaking (the Buckeyes were averaging 51 points a game, and had not been limited to fewer than 22 by any foe). Meantime, observers noted that the hosts’ second-half comeback, which pared the margin to 28-14, was snuffed by three interceptions off Gilmer quarterback Brandon Tennison, who earlier threw two touchdowns.
Carthage quarterback Kai Horton, meanwhile, heaved a trio of first-half TDs.
The Bulldogs took the opening kickoff and meandered 68 yards in 10 plays (along with a 5-yard penalty against each team) to tally on workhorse runner Mason Courtney’s three-yard bop up the middle. Kicker Jonathon Medrano airlifted the first of six PATs with 6:49 remaining in the first period.
After Gilmer went 3-and-out and punted, Carthage wheeled 71 yards in only five plays, overcoming a 5-yard penalty just before Horton flung a 21-yarder to Braeden Wade in the end zone with 3:14 left in the inaugural chapter.
The Buckeye offense moved the pigskin for a time, only to cede it on downs at the visitors’ 13. Soon after an official admitted that an “inadvertent whistle” had negated a Carthage TD, the Bulldogs reached Beulah Land again on the eighth play of the offensive–Horton’s 27-yard airmail package to Montrell Smith with 8:24 left in the second quarter.
Gilmer again bounded downfield, only to again run out of downs at the visitors’ 19. On the next play, a 15-yard Gilmer penalty negated an interception. From there, Carthage needed eight plays–including a fourth-down conversion–to find the gold mine again as Horton sent Smith another scoring sling of 22 yards with but 27 seconds left to intermission.
Facing a four-touchdown margin to surmount as their own band performed, the verdict seemed to be in against new Head Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes. Someone evidently forgot to inform them of this gloomy prognosis, however, as they launched a gallant and stunning, albeit short-of-the-mark comeback that temporarily left the outcome in question.
After the teams exchanged punts on their opening offensives of the third quarter, Gilmer’s offense finally emerged from quicksand and whipped 73 yards in seven plays–six of them Tennison throws, including a 31-yarder to Dylan Fluellen in the end zone. After a Carthage penalty, kicker Jose Hernandez punched the first of his two PATs with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Then the Buckeyes electrified their crowd–which had seemed subdued during the grim first half except when roused by the frequent exhortations of the public address announcer–when Gilmer recovered an onside kick at the Carthage 48. On the fifth play afterward, right after the hosts converted on fourth down, Tennison uncorked a 34-yard TD to Marshae Spraglin with 4:48 left in the third.
Within a span of only 1:07 on the clock, the hosts had stupefyingly chopped a seemingly insurmountable 28-point deficit in half. Could one of the bigger miracles since Moses did his bit at the Red Sea be forthcoming?
Unfortunately for Gilmer, the TD to Spraglin somewhat proved to be its “last hurrah.”
Another onside kick failed. The Buckeyes seemed to still be in the contest when Carthage failed to convert on fourth down from the visitors’ 49, only to themselves soon afterward falter on downs at the Bulldog 35.
Early in the fourth quarter, Carthage again ran out of downs at its 38, but immediately purloined a Tennison pass and took possession at the visitors’ 24. That play may well have been the game’s turning point, if there is such a thing in a 42-14 outcome.
Finally regaining their first-half status, the Bulldogs trooped to TD Territory in 12 plays (including a fourth-down conversion), procuring the points when Courtney whizzed 10 yards with 7:10 left in the game.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs’ Brandon King filched another Tennison pass, giving the visitors possession at their 43. Overcoming a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct at one point, Carthage hit the six-point jackpot again on the possession’s sixth play–Nick Stewart’s 5-yard jaunt with 3:33 left–and Tennison would throw his final interception soon afterward.
Gilmer has an open date this week to recuperate before hosting Spring Hill Oct. 9. As for last Friday night, things had gone to the ‘Dogs.