By Phillip Williams
GILMER–‘Tis apropos that Sir Isaac Newton discovered the Law of Gravity for the Gilmer Buckeyes invoked it Friday night, thus ensuring that the Newton Eagles’ 33-game winning streak came crashing with a titanic thud to the terra firma at Jeff Traylor Stadium, 16-0.
No. 1-ranked Newton (3-1), which procured the state class 3A Division II title for the past two years under the late Coach W.T. Johnston and bloodied the Buckeyes 51-31 last season, could not even get close to within sniffing distance of the Gilmer goal line as the class 4A hosts’ daunting defense not only scored a safety, but blocked a punt, which eventually led to the affray’s second and final touchdown.
For Coach Matt Turner’s Gilmer squad (3-2), it may well have been the most momentous triumph since the Buckeyes acquired their 2014 state championship in his predecessor Traylor’s last game as the Buckeye head honcho. Even moving up the kickoff a half hour earlier than originally scheduled, reportedly because of Newton’s mammoth traveling distance (about 170 miles one-way), could not save the Eagles from becoming an endangered species this night.
Gilmer landed its initial scoring salvo when backup quarterback Brandon Tennison whizzed three yards for a TD with 2:46 left in the first quarter, writing finis’ to a 35-yard, six-play offensive in which he heaved or hoofed for virtually all the yardage. Jose Hernandez airlifted the first of two PATs after the successful offensive, which commenced after a 21-yard Newton punt.
The only other tally before twirling time came when Gilmer trapped Newton runner Kevin Watson for a safety on a play that had begun from his team’s 4-yard line. That came with 8:51 left to intermission, and the Buckeyes overcame 15 yards in penalties after the free kick to reach the Eagle 27 only to have quarterback Mason Hurt’s fourth-down pass fall incomplete.
Newton, however, also had an offensive–its deepest penetration all night–croak on fourth down on its ensuing possession. Runner Valdarion Fowler was nabbed for no gain at the Gilmer 39, and neither team made another serious scoring threat before the break.
With both teams’ offenses somewhat flailing, and down only 9-0 at music time, the visitors remained viable for a time. But the Gilmer defense produced a punch in the third quarter that eventually led to a gaping hole in the Eagles’ aerie when the hosts blocked a punt from the Newton 42 and returned it to the visitors’ 19.
The Eagle defense did not make it easy for the Buckeye offense to avail itself of a scoring opportunity, making Gilmer take six plays (although Newton drew an 8-yard penalty at one point) to score. Runner Darrell Bush finally ripped one yard for the TD with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
After a 25-yard Eagle punt, Gilmer launched a scoring threat by trooping from the visitors’ 35 to the 11 in six plays. But runner Davion Smith then lost four yards on the fourth quarter’s opening play before Hernandez misfired wide on a 32-yard field goal try with 11:13 left.
Newton eventually reached midfield, but lost two yards before quarterback Nate Williams’ fourth-down pass was incomplete. Neither team made a serious scoring threat afterward and the Eagles essentially waved the white flag of surrender by not going to a hurry-up offense near game’s end and even punting with less than a minute left rather than attempting to avert the shutout.
Gilmer travels to Bullard, a team the Buckeyes bludgeoned 62-0 last year, for a 7:30 p.m. tilt Friday.