By Phillip Williams
LONGVIEW–When Pleasant Grove vs. Gilmer redux assumed center stage before what was anticipated to be a mesmerized mob Friday night at Lobo Stadium, the rematch proved a mismatch.
The Pleasant Grove Hawks unleashed a lacerating landlubbing attack on offense, while its defense took full advantage of a turnover-befuddled Gilmer offense as Pleasant Grove garroted the Gilmer Buckeyes for the second time this season, 55-21, in a Class 4A Division II state quarter-finals fray.
The Hawks had bagged the Buckeyes only 37-24 in their initial meeting–the only district dustup Gilmer lost. This time, Gilmer’s Brandon Tennison was making only his second start of the season at quarterback for the injured Mason Hurt, who started the earlier match–and, like last year, Pleasant Grove defeated the Bucks both in regular season and playoff paradise.
While Pleasant Grove, which won the state blue ribbon in 2017, moves on to a possible third straight appearance in the title tilt, Coach Matt Turner’s Buckeyes finished 2019 with a commendable 10-4 mark–somewhat better than their 6-7 record in 2018, the first losing season the team had suffered in 23 years although it won two playoff wargames.
The Buckeyes made a fight of it for a half Friday, trailing only 21-14 at one point in the second period before a 27-point blitz by Pleasant Grove, which led 28-14 at twirling time and 48-14 at third quarter’s conclusion.
After a surprisingly scoreless first quarter, the teams combined for 42 second-quarter points–a scoring spree that began on the period’s opening play when Pleasant Grove quarterback Ben Harmon flung a 5-yard fourth-down TD to Landon Jackson with 11:52 left to intermission. Anthony Mejia airlifted the first of his seven successful PATs (he missed only the one after PG’s seventh touchdown).
Gilmer swiftly rebounded on Darrell Bush’s stupefying 63-yard TD dash up the middle, and Jose Hernandez tied it with the first of his three PAT bangs with 11:33 remaining to the break.
Hawk runner K.J. Hicks, however, hastened five yards around right end to TD territory with 7:39 left. After that, the globe was soon yanked from beneath the Buckeyes as Pleasant Grove defender Sergio Rodriguez purloined a pass from Tennison and returned it 45 yards to tally with 6:54 left.
Thus did a 7-7 game become 21-7 in a span of 46 seconds on the time clock.
The Buckeyes momentarily sniffed the smelling salts, seizing a fumble and scoring on the second play afterward when Bush bounded 16 yards with 4:08 remaining, only to behold Hawk runner Nick Martin steam seven yards for a TD with only 46 seconds left.
Then, if there’s such a thing as a turning point in a game which is decided by 34 points, it may well have been what occurred on the second-half kickoff. Buckeye D.J. Shedd disgorged a fumble to the Hawks at his 23 and on the third play afterward, Harmon airmailed a 25-yard scoring sling to Rodriguez with 10:37 left in the third.
The Hawk landslide continued as runner Bruce Garrett hoofed three yards for the next TD with 5:32 left in the third before another Buckeye bobble set up Hicks’ screaming 57 yards to tally with 35.4 seconds remaining in the period.
Rodriguez had pilfered another pass from Tennison, although a penalty negated the 92-yard touchdown return the Hawk made before officials awarded PG possession at its own 30. Hicks reached Beulah Land on the third play afterward.
The Buckeyes gallantly battled on, totting up points on Tennison’s 31-yard heave to Marshae Spraglin with 10:06 left in the bout before Hicks screamed 49 yards for the tilt’s final score on the first play after Gilmer unsuccessfully kicked onside. That came with 9:56 left.