By Phillip Williams
TYLER–Unvanquished Van hath been vanquished.
Gilmer Buckeyes quarterback Brandon Tennison made the fabled Red Baron resemble an aviational tyro by comparison, sending a stupefying six TD passes through the airwaves as Gilmer vaporized Van, 56-35, in a Class 4A Region II regional semi-finals ode to offense Friday afternoon at Earl Campbell Field.
After toting up a narrow 21-14 advantage at twirling time, only to let Van rebound briefly to tie it 21-all in the third quarter, Gilmer (12-1) scuttled the Vandals’ (12-1) undefeated status in a second half which proved wilder than the annual Running of the Bulls in Spain. The teams combined for six TDs in the third period alone.
The bottom line was that Van, admiringly matching the highest number of points anyone has tallied against Gilmer this season, found itself in the same dilemma as the Buckeyes’ other foes in playoff paradise–helpless to stop the volcanic Buckeye offense. (Gilmer had maimed Mexia with 71 points and Caddo Mills with 68).
In addition, the Vandals self-stymied themselves with poor punting and by yielding a fumble return for a TD.
Gilmer now gets a re-match with an outfit it handily defeated in regular season, Pleasant Grove, at 7 p.m. Friday at Mt. Pleasant’s Sam Parker Field. The Buckeyes also received the tidings Friday that they will not have to worry about a potential state championship game rematch with Carthage–which has inflicted the only three defeats Gilmer has suffered over the 2020 and 2021 seasons–as the defending state champs lost to China Springs on Friday.
But for awhile, it looked like Van might put the quietus on the Buckeyes’ current playoff run. The Vandals took the opening kickoff and soon scored when Garrett Florey whizzed one yard.
Eli Hartman airlifted the first of his five PATs with 9:30 left in the first quarter.
Gilmer launched a devastating counter-attack on the second play after the ensuing kickoff, however, as Tennison dispatched a short throw to Parker Gilow, who broke at least two tackles in turning the toss into a 71-yard TD.
Jose Hernandez banged the first of his eight PATs with 9:08 left in the opening quadrant.
Van regained the lead when quarterback Jackson Rainey whooshed 60 yards on a fourth-down play with 9:13 left in the second period. The Buckeyes, though, seized the lead at intermission as Tennison zipped a 31-yarder to Gilow with 7:10 left before directing a 27-yarder to Jay Rockwell with 4:04 remaining.
Tennison disgorged a fumble to Van’s Kaison Stanford early in the third quarter at the Buckeye 26 and, on a fourth down play afterward, Rainey heaved a 20-yard TD to Luca Kozhev with exactly nine minutes left in the third.
The next thing the Vandals knew, though, Gilmer procured a trio of touchdowns in a blitzkrieg.
Tennison directed a 38-yard scoring sling to Rockwell with 7:36 to go, and soon after a one-yard Van punt–that’s right, one yard–that same duo collaborated on a 21-yard airmail package to Beulah Land with 5:47 remaining in the quarter.
Then the snowball effect wrecked Van as on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Rainey dispensed the fumble which Buckeye Omero Orona delivered 28 yards to tally with 5:30 left in the quarter.
The Vandals returned fire as Alex Zifer wheeled four yards to score with 3:41 left in the period, but Gilmer runner Ladaylon Jackson made a 34-yard scoring sortie with 2:33 still left in the third.
The scoring fest concluded on Tennison’s 37-yarder to Rohan Fluellen with 9:31 left in the game, and Rainey’s 24-yard pass to John Crow with 6:59 left.