By Phillip Williams
ALLEN–It appears that the script for the Gilmer-Waco Connally playoff pairing here Friday night was drafted to resemble a confounding combination of an episode of The Twilight Zone and a Marx Brothers comedy.
The Gilmer Buckeyes ditched a 19-0 lead, fell behind 20-19, and, abetted hugely by a stupefyingly strange series of self-inflicted setbacks on their opponents’ part, finally waylaid the previously unvanquished Waco Connally Cadets, 35-20, in a wet Class 4A Division II regional semi-finals farce at Allen Stadium.
The triumph motored Gilmer (10-3) into a re-match with Pleasant Grove, which burned the Buckeyes, 37-24, during the regular season in a game that effectively decided their district’s championship. The Buckeye-Hawk redux is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Lobo Stadium in Longview.
As for last Friday night, the Buckeyes combined their athleticism with Connally’s multiple mishaps to gain glory.
The Cadets frankly appeared to have overdosed on Thanksgiving turkey the prior day as they committed a bundle of blunders, almost all related to their punting game, that left them looking like anything but a team that entered the arena with a 12-0 mark.
–They twice snapped the ball over their punter’s head, resulting in safeties.
–They had a stray pass-type lateral, which the intended target apparently mistook for an incomplete pass, returned for a Gilmer touchdown because it was a fumble.
–They also missed a PAT kick, ran a fake punt which failed, and had a punt for exactly zero yards.
Depending on which team you were rooting for, this was either the classic “comedy of errors” or a tale of tragedies.
That wasn’t the whole story. Gilmer, led by backup quarterback Brandon Tennison (marking his first start this year for the injured Mason Hurt), managed to bottle up the somewhat unimaginative landlubbing Connally offense much of the night while unleashing an effective runner of its own in the bullish Darrell Bush, who trooped to three TDs.
Both teams showed character–Connally, by exterminating the 19-0 deficit it faced in the second quarter, and Gilmer in resurging after the Cadets had pulled ahead by one going into the final quarter.
The opening Connally catastrophe occurred when the Cadets stalled at their 24, and the snap from center sailed over punter Korie Black’s head into the end zone. He picked it up and ran out of the back of that area, thus preventing a potential Gilmer touchdown, but resulting in a safety with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter–and requiring his team kick the pigskin to the Buckeyes.
After taking the kickoff, Gilmer ran out of fuel at the Allen 9 and settled for Jose Hernandez’s 26-yard field goal, making it 5-0 with 1:59 left in the first chapter.
The Cadets, unable to even procure a first down until 8:36 remained in the second quarter, had run their unsuccessful feigned punt on that period’s opening play, only to have a run by the short man come up short. Gilmer then trooped from its 43 to the Connally 6 only to eschew a field goal and cede the ball on downs itself.
Connally’s offense finally cranked up some, but soon made one of its aforementioned mortifying mistakes.
Quarterback Kavian Gaither tossed an overhand pitch to his left to Korie Black, and the ball appeared to bounce off Black’s fingertips onto the ground. As the rolling pigskin appeared to be heading out of bounds near the sideline, Black did not pursue it, evidently thinking it was an incomplete forward pass.
Gilmer defender Dylan Fluellen either knew better or snatched up the ball just in case it was an errant lateral instead–which it was– and electrifyingly zipped 53 yards or so for the game’s first TD. Hernandez airlifted the first of his four PATs with 5:06 left to the band break.
It then appeared Gilmer might be on the verge of completely embarrassing its unbeaten foe when, soon after the zero-yard shanked punt from the Connally 26, Bush bopped three yards into Beulah Land with 2:28 remaining to intermission.
Then things suddenly turned–for a while.
Connally took the kickoff and steamed 67 yards in six plays, tallying on Jay’veon Sunday’s 4-yard rumble with only 31 seconds left to the break. Kicker Ralph Morales missed the PAT (he would make his next two), leaving it 19-6 at twirling time, when a Gilmer fan bus which broke down en route to the game finally arrived.
Those tardy fans would witness a continuation of the hardy Cadet comeback as Connally returned the second-half kickoff to the Buckeye 46 and launched another potent offensive. Sunday wheeled six yards to the right for the TD with 8:22 left in the third.
After Gilmer went three-and-out and punted, the Cadets plodded through a 75-yard possession which ended with Gaither hoofing five yards for the TD with 1:46 left in the third.
That erased Gilmer’s seemingly safe onetime lead, and the PAT, which came after the Cadets were penalized five yards, put Connally ahead. The Buckeyes, however, showed they had resilience as well, abruptly scoring 16 unanswered fourth-quarter points for the triumph.
The rockslide opened with Gilmer converting two fourth-down plays on a 77-yard TD trek that began right after the last Cadet score. Right after Tennison launched a 25-yard pass to Fluellen on a 4th-and-11 play, Bush whipped four yards for the tally with 9:29 left.
On Connally’s next possession came the second botched snap for a safety with 6:56 remaining after the Cadets had stalled at their 14. This time, the ball went out of the end zone on its own.
Forced to kick off to Gilmer, Connally soon absorbed what likely proved the knockout punch as Bush suddenly blew 56 yards for the final TD with 6:01 left. The Cadets reached the Buckeye 47, but ended up yielding the pigskin on downs at their own 49 before Gilmer ran out the clock with three kneeldowns.