By Phillip Williams
LONGVIEW–The Carthage Curse Continues.
The unvanquished No. 2-ranked Gilmer Buckeyes, able to conquer nearly anybody but the No. 1-rated Carthage Bulldogs over three seasons, fell upon the Carthage sword again, 28-7, Friday night before a colossal crowd in a Class 4A Division II regional semi-finals firefight at Lobo Stadium.
With star receiver Rohan Fluellen surprisingly starting at quarterback for the injured Cadon Tennison–who didn’t enter the wargame until 1:38 remained–the Gilmer offense, which usually totals titanic tonnage, was held to its lowest point total this season. The defense, meantime, ceded the most points anyone scored on the Buckeyes this year.
The bottom line is that the Bulldogs’ linemen controlled the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Connor Cuff felt hardly any pressure as he heaved three TDs to Noah Paddie, and Gilmer’s offense, which had scored at least 25 points in each previous outing, was limited to one TD pass and a PAT.
Carthage tripped to a 14-0 lead at Twirling Time, but the Buckeyes snipped it to 14-7 by third quarter’s end before two more Bulldog tallies turned a tight tilt into a comfortable conquest.
Carthage (13-0) now declares war on Pleasant Grove–a team the Buckeyes dispatched 35-14 in district play. One press box observer noted the irony of the fact that although the Buckeyes beat the Hawks, Pleasant Grove is still alive in the playoffs’ fourth round–and Gilmer isn’t.
Thus did the Bulldogs’ bite of the Buckeyes remain as Carthage, which has won a stupefying eight state championships, has now claimed eight straight triumphs over Gilmer, a perennial powerhouse which has won three state titles.
Gilmer Coach Alan Metzel (whose team played only nine regular season games and hit the finish line at 11-1), is 39-5 in his three years in the Buckeyes’ catbird seat–and four of those losses were to Carthage.
The other defeat came in last year’s state championship game to China Springs–which had beaten Carthage in the playoffs. The Buckeyes lost the prior year’s state title game to…yes, you guessed right.
Ironically, Friday’s 28-7 score was the exact same tally by which Carthage had bonked the Buckeyes last year in a regular season dustup.
After making Gilmer go 3-and-out on the game’s opening offensive, the Bulldogs needed little time to activate the scoreboard as they whooshed 50 yards in only four plays to Beulah Land, the Sunday punch coming on Cuff’s 22-yard zip to Paddie.
Omar Medrano airlifted the first of his four PATs with 7:55 left in the first period.
It looked like the Buckeyes might quickly get caught in quicksand when, on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Bulldog Tedric Pipkins purloined a pass from Fluellen, giving Carthage possession at the Gilmer 23. To its credit, though, the Buckeye defense stopped their foes on downs at the 18 on the fourth play afterward.
While Gilmer moved the ball at times, though, its offense couldn’t come anywhere near scoring in the half. And eventually, a Gilmer punt that went a measly 22 yards to the Bulldog 25 in the second quarter cleared the path for a TD trek that lasted 10 plays–but was greatly abetted by a 15-yard pass interference penalty.
Cuff and Paddie wrote finis to this sequence of plays with an 8-yard scoring sling with 6:08 left to intermission. And some Gilmer fans in the press box openly gave up on their team at that point although the count was a hardly insurmountable 14-0.
Too, something occurred at the end of the half that had seemed to augur well for the Buckeyes. Medrano missed a 40-yard field goal, only to get another shot at it when Gilmer was penalized for running into the kicker. He, however, missed it from 35 yards as well.
Gilmer tried an unsuccessful onside kick to start the second half, but forced a Bulldog punt which looked like a “quick kick” since the formation had made it appear Carthage was going to try to make a first down. And, taking over at their 20, the Buckeyes began a possession in which they finally got to TD territory.
Carthage didn’t make it overly easy for them as 11 plays were required, the last one a long-distance 35-yard Fluellen fling to Ta’Erik Tate. Jose Govea banged the PAT with 3:34 left in the third quarter and suddenly, this was a game.
Carthage, however, returned the kickoff to its 49 and appeared headed for another possible incursion of the Gilmer end zone when, on the 10th play afterward, Cuff dispensed a fumble to Buckeye Elioz Castillo at the Gilmer 21.
If there is such a thing as a turning point in a 28-7 game, though, it likely came on the third play after that.
Fluellen, who had played little if any at quarterback before starting for the injured Tennison the prior week–and who also played defense Friday night–fired on 3rd-and-5 from his 26. Bulldog Keddrick Harper filched the pass, returning it 11 yards to the Buckeye 24.
Gilmer bowed up and made Carthage convert a fourth-down play at one point during a 6-play scoring surge. The Bulldogs nonetheless clawed their way to another TD on yet another Cuff-to-Paddie zinger of eight yards. This came with 6:42 left in the contest.
On their next offensive, the Buckeyes were halted on downs at their 43 with 4:06 remaining, opening the gate for the last Bulldog Big Bang. L.D. (Larandion) Dowden hauled the ball on four consecutive rushes, whistling 14 yards for the TD with 1:40 left.
When Tennison finally came in, he threw two incompletions. The Buckeyes ended up punting on the game’s next-to-last play. And once again, a Gilmer team which has proved so masterful of other foes saw its season go to the ‘Dogs.