IT TOOK 80 years, but the Gilmer Buckeyes made their ancestors proud last Friday night at Vernon Newsom Stadium in Mansfield, as they avenged an 18-0 loss in 1932 in the Regional Playoffs to Graham with compound interest and a 50-7 stomping of the Steers in the Class 3A Division II State Semi-Final game. With the win, the Buckeyes move to 14-1 on the season, and have punched their ticket for the right to face Navasota this Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington for the Division II State Championship. Navasota defeated Bellville 24-7 last Friday night to earn their trip to the title game. Graham’s season ends at 13-2.
Gilmer used a powerful running game and a “lights out” defense by the Black Flag to smother the Steers early on. They built a 21-0 lead before Graham managed to get on the scoreboard for their only time in the game.
Gilmer won the toss and elected to defer till the second half, so they could have the wind at their back in the opening quarter. The decision was a brilliant one by Coach Jeff Traylor.
Pablin Olivares’ opening kick resulted in no return at the Graham 32. The Steers had a 9-play drive and gained 21 yards in 2:26, but on the third series of the drive Dillon Gonzales lost three yards on first down and quarterback Ben Davis threw incomplete on second and third downs, before being they punted the ball away. The kick into a strong breeze estimated at 30-35 miles an hour travelled only 13 yards to the Gilmer 34, where the Bucks went on offense for the first time.
Quarterback Tanner Barr led his team on a 7-play, 66-yard drive over 2:43, resulting in a 13-yard scoring jaunt by Kris Boyd with 6:51 left in the opening quarter. Olivares added the extra point and Gilmer had a lead they would not relinquish the entire game, 7-0.
Olivares’ kick was taken at the 2 by Jerrod Mahan, and he moved the ball out to the Graham 26. Davis picked up 14 on the first play of the possession, but the Black Flag Defense shut the door on the next series and forced another punt. This kick travelled 30 yards and died at the Buckeye 29.
In just 1:35, Gilmer moved the 71 yards in seven plays and found the end zone again on a 7-yard run by Josh Walker with 2:59 left in the quarter. Olivares’ kick was good, and Gilmer led 14-0. Key plays on the drive were runs of 23 by Barr on the first play of the drive, followed by 11 and 14 by Boyd and a 12-yard run by Walker on the play just prior to the score.
The next Olivares kick was fumbled, but recovered by Mahan at his 14. The Bucks appeared to be on the scoreboard again on the first play of the possession when a Davis pass was tipped by Adam Witcher and then intercepted and returned into the end zone by Brandon Barnes, but a yellow flag for holding was called on Gilmer, and the score was negated. The defense rose to the occasion and forced a punt on fourth down. Davis faked the punt and fooled no one but himself, as he was dropped for a loss of four back at the Steer 26, and Gilmer went back on the offensive from that point. This time it took only six seconds and one play for the third score of the night, as Barr hit Slade Morris for a TD. Gilmer was called for a false start on the PAT, but Olivares nailed the kick and the score moved to 21-0 with 1:45 left in the first quarter.
The ensuing Olivares kick was returned by Mahan from his 5 to the 26, but the Black Flag forced a three-and-out, and after a 24-yard punt Gilmer set up shop at the Steer 44. The Steer defense pulled off a three-and-out of their own, forcing a 49-yard punt by Barr that went into the end zone for a touchback.
In what turned out to be just about the only positive of the night for Graham, Davis moved his offense into the end zone in just 3 plays and 22 seconds of clock time. After two straight incompletions, Gonzales got behind the defense in what ended up being an 80-yard pass- and-run play for a score. The score came with 11:38 left in the first quarter. Fidel Herrera booted the extra point, and the lead was cut to 21-7.
After a kick return from the Gilmer 27 to the 39 by Josh Walker, the Bux set up on offense again at their 39. Seven plays, 61-yards, and 2:30 later the Bucks were in the end zone again. Barr hit Patrick Finch for a gain of 24 on the third play of the drive and connected with him again from 15 yards out for the touchdown with 9:08 left in the first half. Walker got into the end zone out of the swinging gate formation for a 2-point conversion, and the lead was 29-7.
The Steers took back over on their 22 after Olivares’ kickoff. Davis hit Bryce Reeves for a gain of 14 on the first play of the possession. Davis was dropped for a loss of nine on the next play by Brandon Barnes, but Gilmer was penalized 10 yards for defensive holding, giving Graham a first down. On the next play, Gonzales broke free for a run of 23. The defense stiffened from that point, and stopped Davis after a gain of two on a fourth-and-three play.
Gilmer couldn’t get any traction on the possession, and Barr punted 24 yards against the driving wind to the Steer 39. Gonzales picked up 10 on first down, but fumbled the ball away to Ardarius Johnson, and Gilmer took possession again.
The Buckeyes held the ball for seven plays and 3:36, but managed only 16 yards in the possession. A Barr pass on fourth down was incomplete and Graham took over on their 37 with 1:51 left in the first half of play.
The Steers picked up two first downs in the possession, one of which came on a pass interference call, but on a fourth-and-10 play, Davis was dropped for an 11-yard loss, and Gilmer took back over on downs. Barr took a knee and the half was over and Gilmer held a commanding 29-7 lead.
In an unusual move, Coach Jeff Traylor elected to kick to start the third quarter so his charges could have the wind at their back in the quarter. The move turned out to be just as brilliant as his decision to defer till the second half after winning the opening coin toss. Olivares drove the ball down to the Steer 27 and there was no return. Davis led his troops to one first down, but the Black Flag yielded only five yards on the next series, and Gilmer took back over on offense on downs at the Steer 44 with 9:50 left in the quarter.
The Buckeyes took only 1:07 and three plays to find the end zone again. Barr threw to Jaidon Parrish for a gain of 20, followed that with a rush of seven himself, then threw a scoring pass to Parrish, and after Olivares’ extra point kick, the Gilmer lead expanded to 36-7 with 8:35 left in the quarter.
Mahan returned the next kick from Olivares from his 1 out to the 42. Davis ran for 12 on the first play of the drive and Gonzales followed that up with a rush for a gain of 15. The Black Flag decided enough was enough and cranked up the heat on the next series, forcing a 3-yard loss on first down, an incomplete pass on second and third downs and a 14-yard loss by Davis on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Bucks at midfield with 7:19 left in the third frame.
Barr led his unit on another 7-play drive that took 2:20 off the clock. The 50-yard drive was capped off with an 11-yardrun into the end zone by Walker with 4:49 left in the quarter. Olivares was good on the PAT kick, and Gilmer advanced the lead to 43-7.
The next kick by Olivares went down to the 30, but the Steers were charged with a fair catch violation, so the ball went back to the 25. Davis tried to jump-start his team, but it was not to be on this night. After passes of 12 and 11 yards to Reeves and Hunter Jones, Graham was called for holding and penalized 10 yards. Davis got the yardage back on the next play with a pass to Reeves, but on the next play Trey Washington snagged an interception at his 38 and returned the pick down to the Steer 43.
Barr brought the offense out and in just four plays he moved the team the 43 yards into the end zone for what would be the final score of the night. The drive took only 55 seconds. Barr hit Parrish for a gain of nine on the first play before Chase Tate ran for 10 on the next play. Boyd followed that up with a gain of 15 before running in from the 7 with 2:25 left in the third quarter. The Bucks were penalized again for a false start on the extra point attempt, but Olivares had no problem splitting the uprights with the kick, and Gilmer was on top 50-7.
Graham went three-and-out on their next possession, and after a 20-yard punt against the wind, Gilmer took back over at their 43. They picked up one first down on the possession, but then the fourth quarter began and the Buckeyes were going against the wind. The drive stalled and after a 29-yard Barr punt against the stiff breeze, the Steers took the ball back at their 14.
Davis and his teammates managed to pick up two first downs on the possession, but on a fourth-and-three on the third series, Hagen Hughes was dropped for a loss of two back at the Gilmer 40, and the Bux took back over possession of the ball.
The teams exchanged three-and-out possessions, and Gilmer took back over at their 20 with 2:47 left in the game and kept it going on the ground to run out the clock to seal the 50-7 blowout win.
It was a very excited Coach Jeff Traylor who talked with media representatives after the win. “We won the toss and we decided to kick it to them twice, just gambling. I’ve never done that in my career. It was just, you know, a 20-mile-an-hour wind. We stayed between our man and the ball. We did enough, and we’re very grateful. Pretty much, we got after it pretty good. I think it’s more special (making it to the Championship) because anybody that’s kept up with us through the year knows we’ve just gotten a lot better. We were not a very good football team for seven weeks. We won some games, but it was ugly, and we got that open week and we just caught a little magic, and we’re really just rolling right now. We’re really just glad, grateful and humble to be there (in the Championship game). I really mean that with all my heart.”
We asked the coach if his team had played a more dominating game this season. “I don’t know if it was total domination. The wind was huge; we scored all our points in the first and third quarters. We didn’t score but eight points in the second and zero in the fourth. The wind was huge, and we’re fortunate we got it tonight.”
We also asked about his thoughts of facing the Navasota Rattlers for the Title. “We’ve heard all year they’re unbeatable, they’re the greatest team in Texas, and I’m sure they are all that. We’re just going to show up and see if we can give them a ball game and see what happens.”
Needless to say, NO ONE expected this team to be able to accomplish what they have this season. The coach was asked his thoughts about how this team came together. “We’re ahead of schedule, there’s no doubt. I knew my seniors would be mature. I didn’t know my young kids were going to accept their leadership so well. I didn’t know my quarterback play was going to come on like it did. I felt good about my defense, but my offensive line and our back play, our quarterback play and our receiver play, it’s just continued to get better each week, so we’re just very happy.”
While Gilmer will be the underdog in this game, one thing they WON’T have to contend with is the weather, as the climate will be controlled at Cowboys Stadium. We asked Coach Traylor how he felt about not having that factor to be concerned with.
“I think it’s very relaxing to know you’re going to a climate that’s controlled. That’ll be fun. You say it’s controlled, but with that big thing (the monster video board) hanging over us, I just hope we adjust. It will be fun.”
We also had a chance to visit with Ty Barr, former State Champion Buckeye, and older brother of Tanner and son of Defensive Coordinator Todd Barr. We asked Ty his thoughts of his little brother switching from defense last year to quarterback this year and the job he has done leading the team.
“You know, he’s a heck of a player, he’s got a lot of athleticism, he loves the game. He comes home from practice and he throws the ball some more. He’s always wanting to get better. I like to see that from him. He’s really grown up, especially being a leader on the field and working with the team, and he’s going to help them win. It’s exciting for me just to watch him; I want to see him get a ring too, and it’s very special to me. I’m excited for him, and I think they can go do it (win the State Championship). When it starts, they’re hungry to win, and they’re not going to stop until the game’s over.”
There is no doubt that Ty nailed what this team is made of—guts, grit, and determination. We KNOW Gilmer will be a double-digit underdog most likely against the Mighty Rattlers, but all Buckeye fans have witnessed the character, leadership, and just flat dogged determination of this group of young men. Call us all crazy, but WE BELIEVE!
Most teams and their fans NEVER get to experience the excitement of a State Championship run. We have been VERY BLESSED as the Army of Buckeyes to be headed to our fourth game for all the marbles in the last eight years, and we’ve been blessed to win two of those three games. The team needs EVERY GILMER FAN to be at Cowboys Stadium Friday afternoon cheering the team on. It will be an experience like you have never had in your life as you watch the Buckeyes play in the most impressive football venue in the world. Wear your orange and black, and bring your loud, rowdy and proud attitude, along with every noise maker you can find and help cheer the team on to another State Championship. We’re all proud of you Bucks. Let’s go WIN STATE!!