By Phillip Williams
GILMER–In a Wild West of a Wargame which was halted for several minutes after a fight, featured numerous penalties, and was marked by both teams’ quarterbacks being injured, the Gilmer Buckeyes emerged with the 700th triumph in school history by lacerating the Liberty-Eylau Leopards, 35-14, Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium.
The game-delaying confrontation in the District 8-4A Division II duel erupted with less than 3 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter, shortly after Gilmer starting QB Brandon Tennison was injured. After sorting things out following the fracas, which brought coaches sprinting onto the field to prevent mayhem, officials ruled both squads had committed offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and ejected a Gilmer player. (An L-E player was also ejected, said an eyewitness in the press box.)
With only 1:10 left in the game, L-E’s Jaydin Hampton, who had played nearly all his team’s snaps at quarterback, was injured and helped from the field. Tennison, meantime, had hoofed for one TD and heaved for another in helping lead the Buckeyes to a 22-14 advantage at twirling time (when only the Gilmer band performed as L-E’s band did not attend. In fact, possibly fewer than 100 Leopard supporters attended on the visitors’ side.)
On top of all that, the teams combined for more than 15 penalties.
When the nearly three-hour rowdy tussle finally ended, Gilmer had an overall 7-1 record, 3-0 in district dustups, while L-E, which won a loop game by forfeit over Spring Hill the prior week, fell to 5-3 overall, 2-1 in district.
Alan Metzel, in his first year as Gilmer head coach after 18 years as an assistant coach there, received a football which public address announcer D.J. Bulls Jr. said commemorated Gilmer becoming only the 15th Texas high school team to reach 700 victories.
Metzel said Saturday that the second-period incident involved a Gilmer player being slugged while on the ground, and that although the gridder did not retaliate, he was cited for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and ejected because he had incurred a 15-yard penalty earlier in the game. Metzel said he also had argued against the first penalty.
As for Tennison, he popped his head on the ground and was scheduled to go through a medical examination next week, but is “feeling good,” the coach said.
The Buckeyes’ initial scoring salvo was Davion Smith’s 10-yard whiz with 8:41 remaining in the first quarter. Jose Hernandez airlifted the first of three successful PATs (He would miss the one after Gilmer’s last touchdown.)
On the second play after the ensuing kickoff, however, L-E’s offense toted up its only touchdown (the defense scored the Leopards’ other six-pointer) in stunning fashion. Hampton launched a 59-yard sling to Chris Lewis and runner Damian Henderson notched a two-point conversion to give the visitors their only lead, 8-7, with 7:51 left in the opening period.
Gilmer rebounded when Tennison whipped 14 yards around right end with 2:43 still left in the first quarter. Feigning a PAT kick, the Buckeyes notched two points when Tennison passed to Smith.
Tennison had less luck, however, with another throw when L-E’s Shawn White purloined the pass and returned it 24 yards for the visitors’ last score with 11:02 left to intermission. Still, Gilmer snuffed runner Aiden Alexander’s try for two points to remain up 15-14.
L-E would pilfer yet another Tennison toss soon afterward at the Leopards’ 23, but promptly went three-and-out before punting to its own 43. On the fifth play afterward, Tennison dispatched a fourth-down 21-yard TD to Dylan Fluellen with 7:34 left to Music Time, the first of Fluellen’s two TD receptions (and he would also snag an interception.)
After the injury, Gilmer senior Mason Hurt, who started at quarterback most of the past two seasons before being converted to receiver this year, ably relieved Tennison, leading the Buckeyes to two third-quarter TDs despite hurling an interception.
After L-E took the second-half kickoff and punted, the hosts rolled 48 yards in six plays to reach Beulah Land on Jaron Choyce’s 1-yard hop with 8:41 left in the quarter. Then Hurt relayed a 19-yard TD toss to Fluellen with 4:24 left before a scoreless fourth quarter in which Liberty-Eylau curiously did not run a hurry-up offense to try and catch up.
Hampton was hurt when sacked for a 11-yard loss to the Gilmer 17. His replacement, Ian Jones, then was collared for an eight-yard loss before hurling a game-ending interception to Keke Johnson.
Gilmer, which has lost only to defending state champ Carthage, performs its final regular season road show Friday, meeting winless district foe North Lamar (in the Paris area) at 7:30 p.m. The Buckeyes host another defending state titleist, Pleasant Grove, in their regular season finale the following week.
North Lamar (0-6) has been shut out in its last four games and lost to previously winless Pittsburg, 61-0, Friday, one week after Gilmer plastered Pittsburg, 41-6.
Gilmer has cinched a playoff spot, regardless of the outcome of its final two games.
As for the win over L-E, it might be characterized in the words one fan was heard to shout at one point in the game: “Holy cow.”