By Phillip Williams
CARTHAGE–The upstart and underdog Gilmer Buckeyes unsettled the unvanquished No. 2-ranked Carthage Bulldogs with an unexpectedly worrisome wargame Friday night, keeping the outcome uncertain until the final minutes before perennial power Carthage gripped Gilmer, 24-15.
When the Bulldogs bounded to a 17-0 lead within the first 2:07 of the second quarter, it appeared they were totting up a massacre similar to their 66-14 bludgeoning of the Buckeyes last year. But Gilmer gamely pared that deficit to 17-6 at twirling time and 17-9 late in the third quarter.
The visitors did so largely because of the Venus Fly Trap-like hands of pass receiver Dylan Fluellen–who made some stupendous catches and two TD receptions–and because, as one astute observer noted, the Buckeye defense prevented the Bulldog offense from Big Bang plays.
Carthage, which had easily deep-sixed its three prior opponents and scored at least 38 points against them all, could muster almost no plays which gained more than 20 yards.
But the Bulldogs’ early lead eventually proved a rabies-laden bite as Carthage tallied on its first three possessions. The first came on quarterback Kai Horton’s 20-yard scoring sling to Craig McNew with 10:20 left in the first quarter, and Brennan Phillips airlifted the first of three PATs.
Phillips then whammed a 25-yard field goal with 3:49 left in the opening quadrant. And when runner Rayvon Ingram trooped a yard for another Carthage TD with 9:53 left to the Band Break, ’tis likely a feeling of deja vu flooded the Buckeye backers who had witnessed last year’s thrashing.
Only this time, Gilmer would make a game of it as quarterback Mason Hurt heaved a 15-yard TD to Fluellen with 5:47 left to intermission. A faulty snap on the PAT kick try to holder Brandon Tennison resulted in him being downed, and Carthage reached the Gilmer 29 in the half’s dying seconds only to have time run out on a Horton incompletion.
The Buckeyes snuffed Carthage’s opening offensive of the second half when the Bulldogs went for the big bopper from the Gilmer 41, only to have Marshae Spraglin purloin a pass from Horton at the 5 and return it 40 yards.The teams exchanged punts before the visitors reached the Bulldog 18 and kicker Jose Hernandez clanged a 35-yard field goal with 1:39 left in the third, making it 17-9.
Gilmer’s comeback got a charge with 9:29 left in the game when the Buckeyes blocked Phillips’ 37-yard field goal attempt. But the visitors went 3-and-out before a 9-yard punt to the visitors’ 49 opened the curtain on Carthage’s final scoring surge.
On the sixth play afterward, workhorse runner Mason Courtney took a pitchout and wheeled three yards for a TD with 5:24 remaining. Carthage then got a break when Phillips’ seemingly failed PAT kick was negated by a Buckeye penalty, and he made the second try.
At that point, Gilmer reaped one last successful surge, ingesting 75 yards in eight plays to tally when Hurt hurled an 11-yarder to Fluellen in the end zone with 2:42 left. But Carthage blocked Hernandez’s PAT kick, meaning the Buckeyes would have to score twice to save the day.
Still, Gilmer remained afloat by recovering an onside kick at the Carthage 48. But the visitors eventually lost ground largely because of a penalty and, when Hurt flung one from his 47-yard-line, Bulldog defender Miles Halton filched it, allowing Carthage to begin running out the clock from the Gilmer 13 with 1:26 left.
Gilmer (2-2) faces another fierce foe next week, hosting a defending class 3A state champion, Newton.