By Phillip Williams
CARTHAGE–The unconquered Carthage Bulldogs once again demonstrated Friday night that the difference between their No. 1-ranked class 4A squadron and the previously unvanquished No. 2-ranked Gilmer Buckeyes is decidedly higher than the difference between the numbers one and two.
Carthage, which subjected Gilmer to a catclysmic 70-14 bloodying in last year’s class 4A Division II state championship wargame after besting the Buckeyes 42-14 in the regular season, gouged Gilmer by a lesser margin this time, 28-7, but frankly dominated the fray somewhat more than the three-touchdown margin indicated.
At twirling time, Carthage’s extravagant scoreboard displayed the stunningly gruesome statistics for Gilmer that the Bulldogs had 16 first downs to the Buckeyes’ one, and 255 yards to Gilmer’s exiguous 42 . (The visitors, who had scored at least 42 points in each of their first four outings, couldn’t even tot up a first down until 37.9 seconds remained to the musical interlude). Yet, in the only statistic which counted–the score–the hosts held a mere 14-0 lead despite statistics that looked like they would be ahead by 50.
That was because Gilmer’s often bend-without-breaking defense had apprehended the yardage-devouring Carthage offense thrice on fourth-down situations at the visitors’ 33, 20 and 31 yard-lines. Carthage scored only on its first and final offensives of the half.
The Buckeyes’ offense, mired in quicksand that forced punt after punt in the first half, sniffed the smelling salts and improved somewhat afterward, but gave up a Carthage defensive tally in the final minutes that snuffed Gilmer’s hopes of a comeback after the visitors had pared a 21-0 lead to 21-7.
Michael Delaney purloined a pass from the usually skillful Gilmer quarterback Brandon Tennison and returned it 65 yards to Beulah Land with 4:03 left as Tennison tried vainly to run him down. Omar Medrano then airlifted the last of his four PATs.
What made that particularly painful for Gilmer was that three plays earlier, Carthage had disgorged a fumble to Buckeye Jose Herandez, who returned it to the hosts’ 34. After a 1-year run and incompletion, Tennison heaved the interception that proved the knockout punch.
Carthage had taken the tilt’s opening kickoff and bounded 65 yards in only six plays to tally on the first of quarterback Connor Cuff’s two TD tosses to Montrel Hatten, a 5-yarder with 9:45 left in the opening quarter.
Despite surrendering massive yardage to the Bulldogs afterward, the Buckeyes kept them out of TD Town until runner Kadadriane Bell steamed 12 yards with 1:05 left to intermission. That wrote finis to a 75-yard, 10-play possession.
In the third quarter, when the Buckeyes received the second-half kickoff and dredged up a first down, it was soon Gilmer’s turn to be stymied on a fourth-down play from its 46. This shortfall opened the road for Carthage’s next TD on the ninth play afterward when Cuff dispatched a 16-yarder to Hatten with exactly five minutes remaining in the third period.
Gilmer eventually created a bit of suspense when its offense finally broke its chains and embarked on a marathon 17-play, 89-yard trek which culminated in Tennison unleashing a 11-yard scoring sling to Rohan Fluellen on a fourth-down play. Hernandez punched the PAT with 7:41 left in the conflict.
But soon came the “pick-six” which ensured that Gilmer drooped to 4-1 while the Bulldogs, who have played fewer games, ascended to 3-0. Gilmer Coach Alan Metzel has an 18-3 mark in his season and a half as head coach, having lost only to Carthage.
After an open date next Friday, Gilmer motors to Spring Hill for an Oct. 8 clash with the Panthers.