By Phillip Williams
The Football Fates conspired against the Gilmer Buckeyes on Friday night at their Jeff Traylor Stadium as the team lost its district debut by a massive margin, its starting quarterback to injury, its winning record and its three-game victory streak in yet another wild wargame in this Strangest of Seasons.
Quarterback Ahkhari Johnson and running back Jaylen Boardley proved a deadly duo to the hosts as the unvanquished Pleasant Grove Hawks gagged Gilmer, 63-28, in their District 7-AAAA Division II start-up.
Even more grieving to the Buckeyes was seeing starting quarterback Cadon Tennison toted off the field on a gurney with 7:47 left in the second quarter and his team down 14-0. He will be undergoing a concussion protocol.
His counterpart on the other team had a far more felicitous evening. Johnson heaved for two TDs and hoofed for two more, while Boardley foisted four TDs on the Buckeyes, including one on a pass reception.
The Hawks toted up a 28-0 lead by shortly before midway in the second quarter before the Buckeye offense, by then led by backup quarterback Jaden Edmond, showed it still had a fairly strong pulse by inflicting four rushing TDs on the visitors, three of them being long-distance calls.
Of those, Will Henderson had two spectacular rumbles while little-used runner Dhrvay Smith legged the other two. ‘Twas far from enough, though, to overcome Gilmer’s continuing habit of surrendering prolific point totals.
The Buckeyes had come into the ring yielding an average of 50 points per game, while their overwhelming offense was averaging roughly the same. This night, though, the Hawks’ dominant defense held the hosts to their second-lowest point total this season.
Pleasant Grove thus churned its record to 6-0 while Gilmer, a perennial powerhouse, sagged to 3-3. The glad tidings for the Buckeyes is that most of the teams on the rest of their district schedule don’t appear to be as proficient as Pleasant Grove.
Meantime, the wackiness of the 2023 season continued in the flag-filled game, which featured a numbing number of penalties and, as one observer noted, debilitating Gilmer turnovers. Viz:
–The contest was delayed for several minutes in the first half to fetch a new set of chains when the chain used to measure for first downs broke.
–The referee fussed about the play clock not being set properly.
–The first half, held up by the chain issue and Tennison’s injury, dragged on for an hour and 28 minutes as the Hawks heaped up a 35-7 advantage.
The visitors required little time to make their mark, forcing Gilmer to punt after the opening kickoff and soon tallying on Boardley’s 2-yard hop with 6:44 left in the opening quarter. Busy kicker Caleb Jones airlifted the first of his nine successful PATs.
Next, Johnson unleashed a 55-yard airmail package to Boardley with 24 seconds left in the opening quadrant.
Then, right after Tennison was injured as he fumbled away to the Hawks at his 24, Johnson sent a TD to Jackson Gibson with 7:39 left to twirling time.
Another lost Gilmer fumble soon led to the visitors’ next volley as Boardley whizzed seven yards with 6:12 still left to intermission, and with the score 28-0, it appeared Pleasant Grove might go on to triumph by a stupefying count.
The Buckeyes, though, were determined to stay in the ring and staged a wow when the fleet Henderson screamed 45 yards to Beulah Land with 4:47 left in the half. Brayden Pate whammed the first of his four successful PATS.
However, Johnson loosed another scoring sling of eight yards to Lance Jackson with 1:52 left to the break.
The Parade of Points continued in the third quarter as, soon after the Hawks dispensed a lost fumble, Henderson whooshed 72 yards with 10:02 left, making it 35-14 and giving Gilmer a chance to surge back into the contest.
That opportunity proved short-lived, however, as the Hawks promptly pounded the Buckeyes with three third-quarter TDs before Gilmer could score again.
Johnson bopped 19 yards with 7:14 left, six yards with 3:39 remaining and then dispatched a 13-yard throw to Nick Bells with 1:05 to go.
Down 56-14, the Buckeyes admirably continued to swing as, on the final period’s first play, Smith wheeled 55 yards to Glory Land with 11:51 left. Then, after Gilmer recovered an ensuing onside kick, Smith tripped two yards for the hosts’ last six-pointer with 10:40 remaining.
Pleasant Grove counter-punched with its last hurrah, Boardley’s 2-yarder with 5:02 to go.
Gilmer, which travels to battle Liberty-Eylau of Texarkana in another district disputation next Friday, thus learned this past Friday night what it meant to be watched like a Hawk