By Phillip Williams
In a wild wing-ding which burgeoned with more Big Bangs than a Fourth of July pyrotechnics presentation, the No. 2-ranked Gilmer Buckeyes KO’ed the Kilgore Bulldogs, 40-26, in Gilmer on Friday night.
Observers noted the fray at Jeff Traylor Stadium was unusual in two aspects: Both teams scored a safety, and both returned a kickoff for a touchdown. And when one team scored in this offbeat Ode to Offense, it seemed the other would tally either immediately or before long.
Several points came on big plays. After a slow start scoring–Kilgore led 7-0 at first quarter’s end–the point-making became so prolific that the teams combined for six scores (two TDs, two PAT kicks, a field goal and safety) within a 91-second span near the first half’s end.
Gilmer overtook the visitors with a 14-7 advantage and never ceded the lead. But the pesky Bulldogs simply kept scoring enough to remain in contention until fairly close to the finale, as Gilmer’s last tally–Jose Govea’s 18-yard field goal–came, fittingly, with only 18 seconds remaining.
The visitors had seized their only lead when runner Isaiah Ross–a thorn in the Buckeyes’ flesh much of the night–whizzed 15 yards around left end with only 51 seconds left in the first quarter. Leo Yzaguirre airlifted the first of his three PATs.
Gilmer rebounded on quarterback Cadon Tennison’s 21-yard TD heave to Ta’Erik Tate, and Govea footed the first of his five PATs with 8:59 left in the second quarter.
Scoring wouldn’t resume until fewer than two minutes remained before Music Time. But that’s when the teams nearly caused the scoreboard operator to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
First, Tennison rifled a 34-yard scoring sling to Cade Bowman with 1:57 left in the half, putting Gilmer ahead for good. And the Buckeyes soon thereafter dealt the Bulldogs a blow when Tyson Wilson purloined a pass from Kilgore quarterback Da’Marion Vanzandt at the Gilmer 30.
Gilmer, however, was immediately penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration and on the very next play, gave Kilgore something to celebrate. Tennison, having retreated all the way into his end zone, fumbled the ball to the side out of bounds for a safety with 1:33 to go.
That forced Gilmer to kick off to the visitors, whose return gave Kilgore felicitous field position at the Buckeye 48. The ‘Dogs reached the 15 before three incompletions stranded them, forcing them to settle for Yzaguirre’s 32-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining.
Buckeye star Rohan Fluellen took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 84 yards to Beulah Land with 26 seconds left in the half. The PAT put Gilmer up 21-12 at Twirling Time.
Despite this psychological setback, and being forced to punt after taking the second-half kickoff, Kilgore stayed on its feet by halting the Buckeyes on downs at the visitors’ 35 before piecing together an incursion into Gilmer’s end zone in seven plays.
Vanzandt launched a 39-yard TD throw to a wide-open PJ Wiley, and suddenly Gilmer led only 21-19 with 1:46 left in the third quarter. That was the beginning of another scoring flurry by the two teams that threatened to short-circuit the scoreboard.
The Buckeye rapid response team was ready.
After Gilmer returned the ensuing kickoff to its 32, it took only three plays for the hosts to hit the jackpot as Will Henderson sped like Superman up the middle 42 yards to TD Town with 59 seconds left in the third period.
As it turned out, though, the Bulldogs knew something about rapid response themselves. Dadrian Franklin promptly returned the Gilmer kickoff a stupefying 78 yards for a score himself with 46 seconds still to go–the game’s third touchdown in a span of exactly one minute.
Up only 28-26 at third quarter’s end, the Buckeyes claimed ownership of the fourth quarter to sock away the win, making them 2-0 to Kilgore’s 0-2. (Kilgore, which had the misfortune of opening the season against the No. 1 and No.2-ranked Class 4A teams in the state, had lost to Carthage, 45-10, the prior week, when Gilmer was cold-cocking No. 3-ranked Chapel Hill, 51-27.)
The Buckeyes actually began to revive late in the third quarter after Franklin’s feat. Taking the kickoff, after which they got a 15-yard penalty to their 20, the hosts steamed to scoring territory in five plays, starting with another Big Bang–a 71-yard missile from Tennison to Tate.
Kilgore didn’t make it easy, forcing the Buckeyes to go for the tally on a fourth-down play as Henderson tripped a yard with 10:44 to go.
The Bulldogs were put in position for another comeback when Gilmer tried an unsuccessful onside kick, and a 5-yard Buckeye penalty was tacked on to give Kilgore the pigskin at the hosts’ 45. In a few plays, they reached the Gilmer 28, but Vanzandt suddenly found himself bedeviled on two straight plays.
First, he apparently tripped over a teammate, losing four yards. On the next play, he fumbled to Buckeye Kam’Ryn Brown at the 34.
The rapid responses were not over, however. On the second play afterward, Kilgore’s Zaylon Stoker filched a Tennison aerial at the Bulldog 2.
That turned out to be a decidedly mixed blessing, if you want to call it that, for the visitors because the Buckeye defense and offense soon proceeded to padlock the Bulldogs in a cage.
Ross carried three straight times, only to lose a yard, get no gain, and then get trapped for a safety with 6:26 left. Forced to kick away, Kilgore didn’t regain possession until the field goal in the dying seconds.
Actually, the able Govea had whammed a 33-yarder during the possession, but the Buckeyes opted to take the points off the board and retain possession when Kilgore was penalized eight yards to its own 8-yard-line for roughing the kicker.
Gilmer was thus able to burn up more time with three plays which reached the 1-yard-line before Govea pounded the aforementioned 18-yard 3-pointer.
The Buckeyes host Paris at 7:30 p.m. Friday after having bitten teams called Bulldogs two consecutive weeks.