By Phillip Williams
KILGORE–After what has beset them in their initial two outings this season, should the Gilmer Buckeyes be paired against yet another battalion of Bulldogs any time in the near future, it appears it would behoove the Gilmer lads to visit a veterinarian for vaccination against rabies.
A week after the Chapel Hill Bulldogs chomped the Buckeyes in the season opener, Kilgore Bulldogs kicker Leo Yzaguirre airlifted a 36-yard field goal with only 8.6 seconds remaining Friday night to let Kilgore convey yet another canine crunching on Gilmer, 24-23, in a breathtaker.
Yzaguirre’s whammo climaxed a heroic Kilgore comeback in the chaotic final 3:52 of the fray, when the Bulldogs overturned a 10-point Gilmer lead (17-7) although the Buckeyes scored six more points themselves during that time.
With the count at 17-7, some Kilgore fans appeared to be departing R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium early, apparently sensing the verdict had been returned.
Well, it hadn’t.
Anyone who left at that point missed a flabbergasting finish between the two teams, both state-ranked despite their 0-1 records coming in. Gilmer, a perennial power, has now begun the season 0-2 for the first time in 24 years.
The difference turned out to be the kicking game. The Buckeyes suffered a blocked PAT after their last touchdown, enabling Yzaguirre’s eleventh-hour field goal to provide just enough points for the Bulldogs to escape the pound rather than having to settle for going into overtime.
The teams’ offenses were both Johnny-Come-Lately squadrons as the first three quarters were a Duel of Defense with a scoreless first period, Gilmer leading 7-0 at Twirling Time, and the count tied 7-7 at third quarter’s end.
That was in marked contrast to a week earlier when the Buckeyes lost 71-53 in what was likely the highest-scoring game in the school’s history. But in the fourth quarter Friday night, the offenses finally sniffed the smelling salts with Kilgore outscoring the visitors 17-16, all in the last 5:27.
In the first half, the only scoring came when Gilmer QB Cadon Tennison wheeled four yards to Beulah Land with 4:09 to go before intermission. Brayden Pate clanged the first of his two successful PATs.
The Buckeyes had to motor only 29 yards in four plays for the initial tally after a 16-yard Kilgore punt which took a big bounce backwards upon landing.
Gilmer had snuffed a Bulldog scoring threat on the second quarter’s second play when QB Derrick Williams, running from the Gilmer 6, fumbled for a touchback, giving the Buckeyes possession.
In the third quarter, Kilgore’s offense finally came off the canvas when it was the Buckeyes who put their own scoring threat in File 13 by dropping a fourth-down pass from the hosts’ 30.
The Bulldogs bounded 70 yards in nine plays, converting on a fourth down play at one point, and tallying when runner Matthew Hardy whizzed 23 yards up the middle with 1:17 left in the period. Yzaguirre boomed the first of his three successful PATs.
As it turned out, this leveled the levee to allow a flash flood of scoring in the final five-and-a-half minutes of the last act.
The teams exchanged punts following Hardy’s TD, and Gilmer embarked on a long, tortured offensive to the Kilgore 18 before Pate’s 36-yard field goal succeeded with 5:27 left.
The Buckeyes began the scoring sortee from their 35, but lost 13 yards back to the 22 on its first play when Tennison got a bad snap from center. Gilmer magnificently overcame that on the second play afterward, later converted on a fourth down, and reached the Kilgore 13 before incurring a 5-yard penalty.
Pate’s three-pointer was the offensive’s 13th play. The teams’ defenses were soon put to sleep.
Down 10-7, Kilgore went three-and-out on its next possession before punting dead at the Gilmer 26. On the second play afterward, Buckeye Brendan Webb staged a show-stopper with a stupefying 70-yard TD flight down the left sideline and some of the disheartened Bulldog fans began their apparent premature exit.
Only 3:52 left, Gilmer ahead by 10, game over. Or so they seemed to think.
Kilgore returned the kickoff to its 49 and, abetted at one point by a 3-yard personal foul penalty against Gilmer to the Buckeye 2-yard-line, staged a frantic 7-play touchdown tour ending in Williams’ 2-yard keeper. The PAT sliced the margin to 17-14 with 2:43 left.
After an onside kick failed, giving Gilmer possession at the Bulldog 39 following a 5-yard Kilgore penalty on that play, soon came a major turning point.
On 4th-and 4, rather than pass, Gilmer gambled on having star Buckeye runner Will Henderson carry, and the Bulldogs stuffed him for no gain at the 33.
Kilgore promptly drew a 5-yard penalty to its 28, but needed only three plays to bombard the Buckeyes when Williams loosed a 40-yard scoring sling to Jayden Sanders with 1:49 left.
That put the Bulldogs up 21-17, but the Buckeyes had one last Wow in their pockets and soon produced it.
After returning the kickoff to its 42, Gilmer took only two plays to land a staggering punch to the gut as Tennison heaved a 32-yard TD throw to Geremiah Noble with 1:16 left, giving the visitors the lead. Then came the critical block of Pate’s PAT kick.
Then came the grand finale’. Kilgore returned the kickoff to its 34, Gilmer was penalized 15 for pass interference, and the Bulldogs in turn drew a 10-yard penalty to their 39 for holding.
Just when it appeared the officials (who called very few penalties in the first half) might take over the game’s starring role, the Bulldogs marshaled their forces. A 15-yard pass, runs of 7 and 6 by Williams, a 14-yard pass, and spiking the ball at the Gilmer 19 to stop the clock sent Yzaguirre out for the killer kick.
On the enusing kickoff, the Gilmer returner, instead of calling for a fair catch with 8.6 seconds still left, apparently decided to try to break free for a game-winning touchdown. He was decked at the Kilgore 26 as time expired.
Thus, while the old maxim is that dogs are “man’s best friend,” this night proved that Bulldogs may be Buckeyes’ worst enemy.