By Phillip Williams
ATLANTA–The first half was an Ode to Offense by both teams, but after Twirling Time, only the unvanquished Gilmer Buckeyes continued composing the verses while the Atlanta Rabbits were morphed into rabbit stew.
Gilmer, leading 38-26 at intermission, toted up 35 unanswered second-half points to agitate Atlanta, 73-26, in an exactly three-hour Parade of Points on Friday night at Rabbit Stadium.
First-year Head Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes (3-0) thus maintained their record of not having lost to the winless Rabbits (0-3) in more than a decade. Gilmer quarterback Brandon Tennison led the creation of the angst for Atlanta, heaving four TDs while hoofing for another.
The Buckeyes–who’ve played everywhere but Gilmer in a season in which game attendance is limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic–finally get to display their wares at home Friday night against Lindale. Kickoff is set for 7:30 at Jeff Traylor Stadium, located right beside the new Gilmer High School–and since the old high school was recently demolished, parking arrangements will be somewhat different this year.
Despite their top-heavy margin Friday, Gilmer’s performance was not unblemished; the Buckeyes disgorged away three fumbles (two of them on botched punt return attempts) and an interception. Nonetheless, the team’s defense filched two Atlanta passes and a fumble itself–all after halftime.
Gilmer took the opening kickoff and whistled 67 yards in four plays to score on Tennison’s 2-yard bop. Jose Hernandez’s PAT kick try failed with 10:51 left in the first quarter.
Atlanta rebounded at rabbit speed, scoring on its first possession as well in plowing 46 yards in six plays, abetted by a 15-yard Buckeye penalty. Quarterback Kameron Dickerson appeared poised to pass, then suddenly sped 16 yards to Beulah Land. Daniel Hernandez–yes, both teams’ placekickers share the same last name–airlifted the PAT to make it 7-6 with 8:17 remaining in the opening quarter.
Gilmer’s Hernandez punched a 23-yard field goal with 5:44 left in the quarter, putting the visitors back ahead until a fumbled punt return attempt immediately led to Rabbit runner Caleb Hamilton’s 30-yard TD. D. Hernandez’s PAT made it 14-9 with 2:51 left in the inaugural chapter.
It was the second and final time Atlanta would lead in a game it lost by 47 points.
The Bucks tallied on Jaydon Griffin’s 9-yard run to the left, and teammate Jaron Choyce wheeled for two points off the “swinging gate” formation to put Gilmer up 17-14 with 1:22 still to go in the opening quarter.
Griffin sprang seven yards for another score with 11:32 left in the second period, and the first of J. Hernandez’s six straight PAT kicks made it 24-14. (Backup kicker Dominic Chavez planted the last two PATs.) Then Tennison airmailed a 32-yard scoring sling to Marshae Spraglin with 7:35 still left to Band Time.
Atlanta, however, was not kaput yet as Hamilton swiftly screamed 66 yards to procure points with 7:16 left to the Band Break before Gilmer blocked D. Hernandez’s PAT try, leaving it 31-20.
Tennison unleashed a 51-yard TD throw to Dylan Fluellen with 5:18 left in the period, only to see Atlanta counter-punch with Dickerson’s 5-yard touchdown trek with only 30 seconds left to the musical interlude. Cooper McClure’s pass for two points failed, and the TD proved the Rabbit offense’s last hurrah of the night.
Soon after Griffin purloined a Dickerson pass, Gilmer’s Davion Smith thundered 43 yards for a TD with 9:08 left in the third. Then, with 5:31 left in the quarter, Tennison released a 26-yard six-point sling to Rohan Fluellen before zipping a 27-yard TD toss to Parker Gilow with 2:28 still remaining in the third.
The Rabbit defense, appeared weary in the late going as Gilmer continued its TD rampage on backup runner Jared Ward’s 66-yard rumble with 11:46 left in the contest, which was the final quarter’s first play. After Gilow relieved Tennison at quarterback, backup runner Kendall Jackson whooshed five yards for the last tally with 7:35 to go and the clock was allowed to run in the very late going.
Thus on this night, it might be said that ’twas the Buckeyes who pulled the Rabbit out of the hat.