By Phillip Williams
PROSPER–The word had come down from the Divination Division of the football commentariat before Friday night’s semi-finals showdown between the Gilmer Buckeyes and Celina Bobcats that Celina would assuredly bedevil the Buckeyes and procure a place in the class 4A Division II state championship tilt.
After all, Celina, which entered the ring at 12-1, had mangled its four playoff opponents, yielding no more than seven points to any of them while producing points aplenty. Gilmer, coming into the arena at 13-1, had won all its four forays in Playoff Paradise by at least 21 points as well, but surrendered somewhat more scores than the granite-like Bobcat defense.
Not only that, but the wargame at Prosper’s palatial Children’s Health Stadium would be played practically at Celina’s doorstep, while Gilmer would be traveling roughly 120 miles to the battlefield. So, the professed experts studied their tarot cards and tea leaves and concluded it looked like a Bobcat bash.
This forecast joined the long list of false prophecies that have come down through the ages as the Buckeyes’ passing game was more than fair in the air, while Celina’s went the way of the Hindenburg, and Gilmer cold-cocked Celina, 27-7, behind passing proficiency led by quarterback Brandon Tennison and sure-handed receiver Rohan Fluellen.
Fluellen received nine passes for a stupefying 185 yards and one TD. Gilmer’s defense, which didn’t allow the Bobcats inside its 30-yard-line all night except on a long touchdown pass, also merits credit for stifling the free-scoring Celina offense.
The triumph returns second-year Head Coach Alan Metzel’s Gilmer outfit to the state title tilt for the second straight year, this time against the unvanquished China Spring Cougars (15-0), who cremated Cuero, 34-9, Friday. Hostilities commence at 3 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys’ playground in Arlington, where the Buckeyes hope to eradicate memories of the gruesome 70-14 bludgeoning they suffered in the big game there against their nemesis, Carthage, last year after taking an early 14-0 lead.
Gilmer, which lost only to Carthage this year (28-7) and twice to the Bulldogs in 2020, probably breathed a hearty sigh of relief when China Spring deep-sixed that perennial power, 27-17, in the playoffs. The Buckeyes have lost only thrice in 2020 and 2021–all three to the Bulldogs.
Friday will mark Gilmer’s eighth appearance in a game for the state blue ribbon, but, as one pressbox observer noted, it marks the first time the Buckeyes have bounded into the state finals for two consecutive years. Gilmer is 3-4 in prior outings, having last won one in 2014..
As for their cold-cocking of Celina, the Buckeyes were beneficiaries of not only the gaping difference in the two teams’ passing proficiency, but of some sometimes-stupefying mental lapses in the kicking game that stuck the Bobcats with horrid field position, poor punting, and Celina’s curious play-calling in the second half..
Had the victors not incurred 10 penalties–many for false starts–totaling 50 yards before twirling time (when they led 14-0), it was suggested the toll might have been worse.
Gilmer took the opening kickoff and whisked 75 yards in eight plays, abetted by a 5-yard Celina penalty, to tally on the first of running back Ashton Haynes’ two TD trips, a 2-yarder up the middle. Jose Hernandez airlifted the first of three successful PAT kicks with 8:51 left in the first quarter.
Celina promptly plunked its way to the Gilmer 32, only to run out of downs.
On the second quarter’s first play came the contest’s lone turnover when Buckeye Tyson Wilson purloined a pass from beleagured quarterback Noah Bentley, who endured an agonizing night. That gave Gilmer possession at the Bobcat 26, but three straight Buckeye penalties at one point helped force them into punting from the Celina 43 to the 1.
Gilmer squandered another scoring opportunity when a Bobcat punt traveled only 20 yards to the Celina 26. The Bobcat defense turned as fierce as it would all night, throwing Tennison for colossal losses of 13 and 16 yards on this series before forcing a Gilmer punt.
Celina, though, went three-and-out before punting 42 yards. This set the table for the winners’ second TD as they promptly steamed 72 yards in seven plays, overcoming a 5-yard penalty, to reach Beulah Land on runner Ladaylon Jackson’s 12-yard zip with 1:54 left to intermission before Hernandez’s PAT.
This is when Celina committed one of its bizarrre transgressions in the kicking game. A Bobcat caught the kickoff in his end zone, and waved his arm to apparently try to fool the Buckeyes into thinking he was making a fair catch. After standing still briefly, he suddenly charged upfield, only to be nailed at his own 5-yard line.
Celina nonetheless rolled to the Gilmer 47 before the half ended there.
Then, to open the second half, Celina kicked itself in the kicking game again. Receiving the kickoff, a Bobcat somehow stopped out of bounds at his own 2-yard-line.
To its credit, Celina reached its own 44 before having to punt, but the boot traveled a mere 17 yards. Gilmer ended up punting from the Bobcat 37 to the 6, again saddling Celina with horrid field position.
The Bobcats, who moved the pigskin respectably by land during the night, admirably managed to reach their 35 before punting to the Buckeye 35, and the Gilmer offense finally made another incursion into the Celina end zone. Overcoming another of those pesky 5-yard penalties, the victors hit the jackpot in only four plays when Tennison dispatched a 19-yard TD toss to Fluellen.
The Buckeyes tried for two points on the old “swinging gate,” but Tennison’s brother, Cadon Tennison, was halted, leaving it 20-0 with 2:06 left in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged punts, and Celina’s offense finally pulled the pin on a hand grenade. Despite rotten luck with its passing game overall, Bentley managed to uncork a 40-yard TD bomb to Brower Nickel with 8:49 left in the game, writing finis to a 5-play, 76-yard hike abetted by a 15-yard Gilmer penalty.
When Kaden Lorick clanged the PAT, this suddenly was a ball game.
Not for long, though.
Celina unsuccessfully kicked onside and, while it forced a Gilmer punt, ended up ceding the ball on downs at its own 19 when Bentley was sacked for a 9-yard loss. On the next play, the Bobcats drew a 15-yard penalty to the 4 for pass interference, and Haynes immediately whooshed for a TD with 6:28 left.
After halftime, Celina mysteriously repeatedly went for downfield passes despite the fact this was proving a disaster for it. In the final two periods, Bentley completed only two of 17 passes (only two of which were dropped, one of which would probably have been a touchdown).