By Phillip Williams
ARLINGTON–When the upstart underdog Gilmer Buckeyes toted up a 14-0 lead on the heavily favored and unvanquished Carthage Bulldogs on Friday afternoon, it appeared the Buckeyes might avenge their debacle against the Bulldogs earlier in the season and stage an unthinkable upset to don the state Class 4A Division II state championship.
This proved a mirage.
Carthage’s volcanic offense and defense proceeded to procure a petrifying 70 straight points in a bewildering blitzkrieg that included defensive MVP Brandon King purloining four passes–and returning two for touchdowns within seconds. Thus did King mark his birthday in stupefying style as Carthage garroted Gilmer, 70-14, to attain the Bulldogs’ eighth state blue ribbon under Coach Scott Surratt.
King was hardly the only culprit in the Buckeyes’ bashing at AT&T Stadium as offensive MVP running back Mason Courtney hoofed for three TDs and quarterback Kai Horton not only heaved two touchdowns, but caught one on a trick play. (Courtney and Horton announced at a post-game press conference they were signing with Tulane University later in the day.)
It is difficult to determine what was more disconcerting–the fact that Gilmer inflicted Carthage with the Bulldogs’ first 14-point deficit all season, or the Carthage comeback that resulted in a 10-touchdown tsunami.
Able to quell all its other foes this season, Gilmer finished a shiny 14-2 under first-year Head Coach Alan Metzel, having been clanged 42-14 by Carthage (14-0) during the regular season.
Gilmer entered the arena Friday as a 19-point underdog against a team that had not won a contest by less than 17 this season– and the rematch proved even more dreadful for the usually bountiful Buckeyes. After merrily ascending to what proved a deceptive auspicious beginning, they became the first Gilmer team in 43 years to surrender as much as 70 points in a contest. (Mt. Pleasant defeated Gilmer 72-0 in 1977.)
Gilmer’s able QB Brandon Tennison hurled two TDs to Rohan Fluellen in the game’s first five minutes, only to later fling four filched passes as the Buckeyes abruptly nosedived and achieved almost nothing notable the rest of the way. Besides King’s two “pick-sixes,” his two other interceptions off Tennison set up Carthage tallies.
At first, though, ’twas Gilmer glory as the Buckeyes unsuccessfully kicked off the game onside, giving their foe the pigskin at the 50-yard-line, but holding Carthage on downs at the Buckeye 42. On the third play afterward, Tennson unleashed a 52-yard TD to Fluellen and Jose Hernandez clanged the first of his two PATs with 9:21 left in the opening quarter.
The Buckeyes stunned the ‘Dogs by promptly kicking onside again–this time successfully. Gilmer made a 48-yard pilgrimage to Beulah Land in six plays as Tennison and Fluellen collaborated on an 18-yard scoring sling with 7:12 left in the first period.
This proved anything but an omen of things to come, however.
Carthage began its revival with subterfuge. Taking the kickoff, and overcoming a 5-yard penalty along the way, the defending state titleists (in Class 4A Division I last year) trooped 75 yards in seven plays to hit the bullseye when Horton sent a pass-type lateral to receiver Craig McNew–who promptly passed to Horton for an 18-yard TD.
Irvin Jiminez clanged the first of his nine successful PATs (Pedro Garcia kicked the team’s 10th) with 4:17 remaining in the opening quarter. And the Bulldogs were on their way to mimicing a runaway train.
Awhile later, right after Carthage punted, King snagged his first takeaway at his team’s 38. Abetted by a 15-yard face-mask penalty against Gilmer, the Bulldogs bounded to TD territory in six plays as Courtney whistled the final 27 yards with 9:56 left to twirling time.
After the Buckeyes punted, Carthage rumbled 76 yards in only three plays, acquiring the TD on Horton’s 29-yard bomb to Braeden Wade on a play where the Gilmer defender fell down. This came with 7:21 left to intermission.
Now ’twas time for King to mount the throne.
His first TD return, 15 yards, came with 7:03 left to the break. And immediately after the kickoff, he stunningly nabbed another one of 35 yards with 6:46 left to music time.
At the press conference, King said a receiver tipped the first interception to him and that one of his teammates tipped the second. When the second came, King said, “I was like ‘Oh, my God, it’s another one.'”
After another Buckeye punt, Carthage cobbled together a swift 75-yard, three-play TD travelogue, aided by a 10-yard Gilmer penalty. Horton zinged a 61-yard TD toss to Kavonte Brown-Hoskins with 3:40 still remaining in the half, and it was 42-14 at the interlude.
Carthage needed little time to resume this torrid tirade in the second half, as, right after a Gilmer punt, Courtney screamed 69 yards for six points with 10:07 left in the third period.
After yet another punt, the Bulldogs bopped 71 yards in eight plays, hitting the jackpot on Courtney’s 23-yard jaunt with 4:43 left in the third.
King’s final theft of a Tennison toss, this time at the Bulldog 31, oiled the road for the next TD offensive as on the eighth play afterward, Montrell Smith blew 15 yards to score with 27 seconds left in the third.
The Buckeyes couldn’t even contain the Bulldog backups as second-string QB Javarian Roquemore, facing a fourth-down situation from the Gilmer 4, rolled around left end for the last six-pack of points with 4:11 left in the contest.
In the press conference, Metzel, an assistant coach on three Gilmer state championship teams during the past 16 seasons, credited Carthage’s “massive offensive line that can just wear you down leaning on you.”
Surratt said of his latest title in eight successful state championship games at Carthage, “It means everything…To win eight is just crazy.”
Concerning the 14-point deficit, Surratt could not remember his team trailing in a game all season and credited “senior leadership” with reversing the tide. The attitude was “win the next play.”
As it turned out, the Bulldogs won a lot of them.