By Phillip Williams
Jose Hernandez airlifted a 19-yard field goal on the wargame’s final volley, writing finis to a strong-armed second-half comeback as the Gilmer Buckeyes were propelled to pluck the defending state champion Pleasant Grove Hawks, 31-28, in a dramatic dustup for the District 8-4A Division II blue ribbon Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer.
First-year Head Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes (9-1 overall, 5-0 in district duels), who snuffed a 21-7 deficit at twirling time in finally discontinuing a five-game losing streak against PG, now enter playoff paradise against Canton at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lindale. The Hawks (7-3, 4-1 including a win via forfeit) also landed a playoff berth despite dropping the regular season finale, and could end up facing Gilmer again in the playoffs, as has occurred the last two seasons.
While Pleasant Grove’s landlubbing attack, paced by faster-than-a-jackrabbit freshman runner Jaylen Boardley and senior Nick Martin– coupled with the Hawks’ purloining of two passes from Gilmer quarterback Brandon Tennison–allowed the visitors to rule Friday’s first half, the final two quarters proved a role reversal.
Gilmer’s “Black Flag Defense” largely stiffed the old-fashioned, land-loving PG offense, featuring a quarterback-under-the-center and only a handful of passes all evening, while Gilmer’s more balanced attack burned like a six-alarm blaze. Tennison ended the night with two TD tosses, and a stupefying 67-yard scoring dash, offsetting Martin’s three rushing tallies.
The Hawks had taken the game’s opening kickoff and trooped 59 yards to Beulah Land, procuring points on Broadley’s 33-yard whiz. Enrique Rios clanged the first of his four successful PAT boots with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
Gilmer climbed off the canvas long enough for Tennison to zip a 20-yard TD to star receiver Dylan Fluellen with 6:41 left in the second quarter. Hernandez boomed the first of his four successful PATs.
Pleasant Grove, however, soon counter-attacked as Martin tripped two yards to score with 4:38 left in the half. Yet another Martin two-yard tallying tote, this one on a pitchout, came with only four seconds left to Band Time.
Unfazed, Gilmer took the second-half kickoff and scooted 80 yards to narrow the lead on Tennison’s 29-yard heave to Dylan’s brother, Rohan Fluellen, with 10:27 remaining in the third period.
A subsequent key play–the Buckeyes’ sacking PG quarterback Jalen Woodside for a 9-yard loss to the Gilmer 44 on fourth down–eventually led to the hosts’ next six-pack of points. Runner Davion Smith reached Glory Land from four yards out with 2:31 left in the third, and the kick tied it 21-all.
The Hawks punted to open the fourth quarter, soon leading to Tennison’s aforementioned show-stopping run. He was the beneficiary of some luck as a press box observer noted–and a replay showed–a pursuing tackler came up lame with an injury, but Gilmer took its initial lead of the game with 10:28 left.
Beset by 21 straight Gilmer points, the Hawks gallantly showed they were not out of fuel. They took the kickoff and plodded 77 yards in 12 plays to strike oil on Martin’s 8-yard run with 3:46 remaining.
That offensive was marked by controversy when Woodside completed a 30-yard pass to Sam Bradshaw, who fumbled the pigskin to Gilmer at or around the Buckeye 41, only to have officials rule Bradshaw had gone out of bounds first. This call provoked a protest from Buckeye fans.
In the long run, it wouldn’t matter. The Hawks wouldn’t get the ball again as Gilmer devoured the remaining time with a stupefying 13-play offensive from its 27 to the PG 1 before the clock stopped with 2 seconds left, enabling Hernandez to pull off the killer kick.
Highlights of the winning final push were Tennison’s fourth-down pass to Dylan Fluellen for 13 yards to the PG 24 and the quarterback’s 21-yard heave to the same receiver, who caught it despite double coverage, for 21 yards to the Hawk 1-yard-line.
Tennison was stopped for no gain and then spiked the ball just before Hernandez’s kick. Ironically, Gilmer had lost 41-38 at home against the Hawks in 2017 when the Buckeyes missed what would have been a game-tying field goal at or near the end.
But not on this night. Instead, Jose Hernandez’s teammates were ready to call a radio station and have it dedicate an old song to him–I Get a Kick Out of You.