By Phillip Williams
TEXARKANA– Deploying a daunting defense which did not even cede a first down until the third quarter, the unvanquished No. 2-ranked Gilmer Buckeyes paralyzed the No. 3-rated Pleasant Grove Hawks, 35-14, in the squads’ opening district dustup Friday night.
Gilmer, likely known mainly for its prowess on offense, reaped one touchdown from its “Black Flag Defense,” which set up another tally by confiscating a fumble deep in Hawk territory. Pleasant Grove’s landlubbing offense, meanwhile, found its running game run into the ground by the visitors’ largely unyielding defenders.
It wasn’t like the Gilmer offense didn’t do its due diligence, though, as quarterback Cadon Tennison flung two TDs to Rohan Fluellen and hoofed for another score.
With the triumph, which came after Gilmer had the unusual experience of two straight open dates, Coach Alan Metzel’s Buckeyes hopped to 5-0 while the Hawks sagged to 4-2.
The District 7-4A Division II teams, which each have a history of winning state championships, deadlocked in a scoreless first quarter before Gilmer toted up a 14-0 lead at Twirling Time. The visitors swelled that to 21-0 afore the Hawks could finally locate the end zone.
While Gilmer’s defense stuffed the ground game like the Buckeyes were practicing to become taxidermists, its offense took awhile to detonate the dam as Pleasant Grove’s defense purloined two passes from Tennison in the first half.
The Buckeye offense finally hit the jackpot, abetted by two straight 15-yard penalties against the hosts, on a 77-yard, 9-play offensive. Runner Ashton Haynes, who’d been held to no gain on each of the two prior plays, invaded Beulah Land from a yard away with 10:18.4 left to Music Time.
Jose Govea airlifted the first of five successful PATs.
Gilmer’s next tally would come after a stupefying series of events in the half’s final 49 seconds.
The Buckeyes had tromped to the PG 25, only to see Hawk X’Zavion Johnson filch a Tennison aerial at the hosts’ 1-yard line. Quarterback Ahkhari Johnson notched four yards to the 5, and it appeared his team would likely run the clock dry and head into the half down only 7-0.
Gilmer had other ideas.
Johnson fumbled on the next play to Buckeye Seth Jordan at the 1-yard line with nine seconds left. Tennison promptly air mailed an apparent 1-yard TD toss to Fluellen, only to have a 10-yard penalty void it.
With only five and a fraction seconds left on the clock and no time outs, Gilmer chose to gamble on procuring a TD rather than pop a short-distance, high-percentage field goal. And lo and behold, Tennison again lofted the ball to the sticky-fingered Fluellen, who clutched the 11-yard scoring sling with a mere 1.6 seconds left to intermission.
Then, just as the Buckeyes had ended the first half with a haymaker, they landed another one close to the second half’s onset.
Pleasant Grove tried an unsuccessful onside kick, giving Gilmer possession at the Buckeye 39. On the third play afterward, Tennison faked a handoff and shot 30 yards to TD territory with 10:55.9 remaining in the third.
At that point, Pleasant Grove’s lifeless offense suddenly sniffed the smelling salts and threatened to climb off the canvas from a 21-0 deficit.
The Hawks took the ensuing kickoff and continued to be stymied on the first play as a run from their 40 netted no gain. On the next play, however, quarterback Ahkhari Johnson suddenly galvanized the Pleasant Grove faithful with a 13-yard whiz for the team’s initial first down with 10:05.4 left in the period.
On the third play afterward, Johnson suddenly screamed 45 yards up the middle to a TD with 8:26.6 left in the third. The first of Caleb Jones’ two PAT pops made it 21-7.
The Hawks looked like they might continue this comeback when they forced a Gilmer punt on the Buckeyes’ next possession. But after several plays and penalties, calamity reared its head against the hosts.
Buckeye defender Omero Orona filched a Ahkhari Johnson heave and rolled 31 yards for a TD with 3:13.3 left in the third. And if there’s such a thing as a turning point in a 35-14 game, this may well have been it.
Still, the Hawks were commendably unfazed enough to throw another Sunday punch, although they had a touchdown negated by a penalty and ended up surrendering the ball on downs on their next possession.
Early in the fourth quarter, PG held the Buckeyes on downs itself at the Hawk 35, and promptly launched a 6-play scoring surge. Runner Spencer Danner danced the final 22 yards and suddenly, it was 28-14 with 9:02:05 left–enough time for the home team to overtake the visitors.
Again, Gilmer had other ideas.
The Hawks’ onside kick failed, giving the Buckeyes possession at the Gilmer 49. On the sixth play afterward, Tennison zipped a pass to Fluellen, who broke two tackles in creating a 30-yard TD throw with 7:36.7 left.
Gilmer commences hostilities with another Texarkana team in the Buckeyes’ district, the Liberty-Eylau Leopards, in Gilmer at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Meantime, the Hawks had played last Friday eve’s contest with the words “FULL TILT” emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys. But on this night, the only tilt they had was to be tilted like a rocked pinball machine.