By Phillip Williams
MOUNT PLEASANT–The idee fixe among some in coaching circles that ball control is the gangway to gridiron glory took a rather disasterous discrediting for the Pleasant Grove Hawks in their re-match with the Gilmer Buckeyes in Playoff Paradise here Friday night.
Despite a landlubbing, time-devouring offense that ingested substantial yardage and ran far more plays than Gilmer, the Hawks could not do the one thing they needed to do–score–until they trailed 29-0 as the Buckeyes pilloried Pleasant Grove, 36-15, behind quarterback Brandon Tennison’s four TD tosses.
Gilmer toted up a 22-0 lead at twirling time in the unusually quick game (played in a mere two hours, eight minutes altogether after a startlingly short 50-minute first half). While the Hawks, taking plentiful time between plays, were making respectable gains ground-wise, but breaking down short of the Gilmer goal line, Tennison throws were procuring points–and that was the basic storyline of this class 4A Division II regional finals fracas at Sam Parker Field.
With the triumph, Gilmer (13-1) rockets into the semi-finals next Friday against an awesome adversary, Celina, at Prosper. Gilmer is home team for the 7 p.m. combat, and that impending clash is expected to be enthralling, with the winner gaining admission to the state championship wargame which Gilmer lost last year to Carthage.
As for Friday night, Pleasant Grove–which sustained a 55-14 bloodying by the Buckeyes in their recent battle for their district championship–was armed this time with heralded runner-quarterback Ahkhari Johnson, who missed the first meeting due to injury. But he did no major damage as his team wrote finis to the season with an 8-6 mark.
Gilmer began its scoring salvos apace after Pleasant Grove opened the game with an unsuccessful onside kick. Taking over at their 49, the Buckeyes reached Beulah Land in just three plays as Tennison heaved a 44-yard shot to Parker Gilow.
Jose Hernandez airlifted the first of his four successful PATs with 10:54 left in the first quarter, meaning Gilmer had taken only 66 seconds to tally.
The Hawks were penalized 15 yards before Gilmer kicked off, so the Buckeyes also attempted an onside boot which failed. Beginning at their 35, the Hawks plodded as far as the Gilmer 11 at one point, only to be penalized to the 16 and end up ceding the ball on downs there after a possession of 10 rushing plays.
That aborted thrust ended with 4:15 left in the period, meaning the Hawks hogged the pigskin for over six and a half minutes for naught.
Gilmer then consumed some time of possession itself, inching 84 yards in 12 plays to reach TD territory again on Tennison’s 19-yard zip to Gilow on the second quarter’s first play. The Buckeyes employed subterfuge on the conversion, as runner Michael Colbert wheeled for two points on the “swinging gate” with 11:52 left to intermission.
Pleasant Grove then began another offensive reminiscent of what the late Longview sportswriter Sam Paris once wrote in a game account about 60 years ago–the Hawks “prized” the ball “like an all-day sucker.” After returning the kickoff to its 30, Pleasant Grove pieced together a 14-play offensive–again all by land–that ended in calamity.
The Hawks had reached the Gilmer 4 before Johnson disgorged a fumble on the 14th play, and a Gilmer defender returned it to his 23. This would clear the decks for the victors’ next cannonade, as on the fourth play afterward, Tennison launched a 62-yard scoring sling to Rohan Fluellen with 1:51 left to music time.
In the third period, the Hawk offense saw its close-but-no-cigar curse continue as it reached the Gilmer 22, only to again lose possession on downs when quarterback Jarret Halter was sacked at the 31. And once again, the stoppage of a Pleasant Grove thrust led to a Buckeye Big Bang.
On only the third play afterward, Tennison’s nuclear arm produced yet another six-pointer, a 64-yarder to Ta’Erik Tate with 2:20 left in the third period.
At this point, the Hawks finally figured out how to produce some points as they suddenly roared 60 yards in only three rushing plays to tally on Davion Stewart’s 13-yard hop (earlier in the brief offensive, he had rumbled for a 45-yard run). Enrique Rios boomed the PAT with 52 seconds left in the third, making it 29-7.
Any notion that the Hawks were about to get back in the fray, though, soon were dashed as Gilmer returned an onside kick to the Pleasant Grove 32, and took only four plays to motor to Glory Land. Runner Ladaylan Jackson whizzed 10 yards with 11:52 left in the contest.
The Hawks managed to make the final casualty count look less gruesome as they tackled Gilmer runner Ashton Haynes for a safety with 4:08 left, then took the ensuing Gilmer kickoff and bounded 73 yards to the end zone in seven plays, abetted by a 15-yard penalty against the Buckeyes.
Halter sneaked a yard for the score, and a pass for two points failed with only 1:28 left.