For the second year in a row, the Nacogdoches Dragons gave the Gilmer Buckeyes all they could handle Friday night at Jeff Traylor Stadium in Gilmer. The Bucks fell behind early by the count of 14-0, but battled back and held on for a thrilling 51-49 victory. Last year in Nacogdoches the Buckeyes prevailed 56-52. There is no doubt that battles like these are good experience for down the road, particularly in the playoffs. The win moves Gilmer to 4-1 in non-district action, and they will get their open week next week before hosting 5-0 Texarkana Pleasant Grove at Jeff Traylor Stadium on Friday, October 13th to open district play.
The visiting Golden Dragons won the coin toss but deferred to the second half. Their defense forced a three-and-out, and on fourth down catastrophe hit when Nac recovered a botched punt attempt at the Gilmer 15. It took only 4 plays and 1:35 for the visitors to cash in the early gift. They scored with 9:46 left in the first quarter when quarterback Jake Smith hit James Sowards from the 13. Chris Campos-Gonzalez added the PAT, and the Dragons led 7-0.
The Buckeye offense got the ball at the Gilmer 32 after Braydon Bates returned the ensuing kickoff. Poppy Brown and company had a good drive going that appeared as though it would lead to a game tying touchdown, but on a third down on the third series of the drive, Brown was intercepted by Ke’andre Deckard at his 13, and the threat was quelled.
The potent Nac offense took just 46 seconds and 2 plays to move the 87 yards into the end zone once again. After a 7 yard pass from Smith to Karius Flanagan, Marcus Sweat broke free on a 79-yard jaunt into the end zone. Campos-Gonzalez added the extra point, and the visitors were up 14-0 with 6:35 left in the opening frame.
Following a kick out of the end zone, Brown and the offense took over at their 25, and climbed right back into the game. They moved the 75 yards in just 8 plays and took 2:43 off the clock before Brown hit Morgan Lusty from 39 yards out for a score. Adan Ibarra hit the extra point, and the deficit was cut in half, 14-7.
After Ibarra’s kick went out of bounds at the Dragon 8, instead of taking the ball at the 30, the visitors chose to have the Bux re-kick from the 35. Ibarra did a pooch kick that was recovered by Hollis at the Nac 49. The offense went to work from there and took the lead at the end of the drive...
It didn’t take by 3 plays and 43 seconds for Gilmer to punch the ball into the end zone for the second time. The score came on an 8-yard run by Bran Webb immediately after a 35-yard pass from Brown to Red Jones. The Buckeyes successfully executed a 2-point conversion out of the swinging gate, and Gilmer led 15-14 with 3:09 left in the first quarter.
The Bucks successfully recovered a second pooch kick at midfield when Wilson Nugent came away with the pigskin. Things looked promising once again, but a 10-yard holding penalty wiped out a 24-yard pass from Brown to Hollis, and Gilmer was forced to punt the ball away.
The Dragons started from their 45, and didn’t take but 4 plays and 49 seconds to move the 55 yards into the end zone for the third time on the evening. The score came with 25.4 seconds left in the opening quarter. The score came on a 12-yard pass from Smith to Sowards. Campos-Gonzales was true on the kick, and Nac was back in front, 21-15.
After another kick out of the end zone Brown and the offense set up shop once again at their 25. It took just 56 seconds and 5 plays before the Bucks were in the end zone again. The score came on a 17-yard scamper by Brown with 11:29 left in the first half of play. Ibarra was good on the extra point, and Gilmer recaptured the lead, 22-21.
The Black Flag Defense rose to the occasion on the next Nac possession, forcing a three-and-out. After a short 24-yard punt, Brown and his unit were back in business at the Gilmer 33. They took just 1:26 and 5 plays to move the 67 yards to pay dirt once again. The score came on a 2-yard run by Brown with 7:15 left in the half. The PAT was no good, but Gilmer extended the lead to 28-21.
After the black flag allowed just one first down on the next Nac possession, Brown and the offense began at their 45 after a very short 14-yard punt by the visitors. They moved the 55 yards in 8 plays and took 2:14 off the clock before finding the end zone again. The score came on a 17-yard TD pass from Brown to Tra Fluellen with 2:51 left in the half. The 2-point extra point try was no good, but the Bucks were ahead 34-21 and appeared to be gaining control of the game.
The Dragons made sure that wasn’t the case though. They began at their 26 and took just 1:39 and 5 plays to move the 74 yards for a touchdown. The score came on a 51-yard pass from Smith to Sowards with 1:12 left in the first half. The extra point kick was good, and Nac narrowed the Gilmer lead to 34-28.
Not to be outdone, Gilmer started the final drive of the half at their 16. They moved the ball 75 yards in the final 1:12 of the half and consumed 11 plays. Ibarra hit a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half, and the teams headed to the locker room with the home team up 37-28.
The Dragons received the second half kickoff, and moved 18 yards in 3 plays, but there was a fumble on the third play and Bates recovered the loose pigskin at the Buckeye 47, and the offense took over again.
Unfortunately, on the second play of the possession, Brown was intercepted at the Nac 46 and the ball was returned down to the Buckeye 15 and the visitors were back in business.
Nac moved into the end zone in 5 plays and took 2:07 off the clock before Marcus Sweat ran in from the 1 with 8:29 left in the third quarter. The PAT was good, and the Dragons were down by 2, 37-35.
Gilmer got the ball on their 32 after the ensuing kick, but after picking up three first downs, the drive stalled, and a 32-yard field goal attempt by Ibarra was no good with 6:27 left in the quarter.
The Black Flag didn’t allow but one first down on the next Dragon possession, and after a punt to the Gilmer 47, Brown and company went on the attack again, and it only took 40 seconds and 3 plays before the Bucks extended the lead. The score came on a 12-yard pass to Lusty with 3:27 left in the quarter. Ibarra’s extra point try was good, and the Gilmer lead advanced to 44-35.
Following the kickoff, Nac got the ball at their 33 and went on a lengthy 14-play, 67-yard drive that consumed 5:18, resulting in another touchdown. The score came on a 2-yard run by Sweat with 10:09 remaining in the game. The extra point kick by Campos-Gonzalez was good, and the lead dwindled to 44-42.
The Buckeyes bounced right back on their next possession which began at the Gilmer 18. The moved the 82 yards in 8 plays and took 2:33 before Webb ran into the end zone from 28 yards out with 7:36 left in the game, for what would be the last Gilmer score of the evening. Ibarra nailed the PAT, and Gilmer led, 51-42.
The visitors refused to accept defeat without one more offensive battery. They took over after the kickoff at their 47 and moved the 53 yards in 9 plays and took 3:52 off the clock, and scored their final touchdown of the night on a 6-yard run by Chad Lathan with 3:44 left in the game. The extra point was good, and the Gilmer lead was back down to 2, 51-49.
The final kickoff of the night went into the end zone and Poppy and the offense went to the ground and pound running attack and ran out the clock to end the contest and grab the win.
Coach Matt Turner was obviously pleased with the win when we talked with him after the conclusion of the contest. “We hung in there and played it out. That’s what you had to do tonight. We made a lot of really good plays tonight and we made some plays that we wish we had back. That’s going to always happen. You’ve got to keep playing, and our guys did. We hung in there and made the plays offensively, defensively and in the kicking game that we needed to make.”
We asked Coach Turner about the resiliency the team showed after falling behind 14-0 early in the game. “We just didn’t execute. We busted a coverage. I think our guys were ready to go, but they just didn’t do what they needed to do. That’s my job. I’ve got to get them ready to do it. Once we got that kind of over, we settled in. Defensively, we had a few things we had to get adjusted to, and we did, and then offensively we got going and were able to execute, so it was just a matter of executing. They were a good team, and you’re not going to get any freebie; you’re going to be able to not execute and get away with it. I told the guys it was just like last week. We had some good plays and we had some we’ve got to fix. We’ve got to keep getting better.”
We ended our conversation by asking the Buckeye Boss his early thoughts about the Pleasant Grove Hawks flying high into Gilmer in two weeks. They will mostly likely be 5-0 after an expected win over Krum at Royse City on Friday, Oct. 6. “We’ve got a lot of respect for them. Coach Gibson does a great job. They’ve got talented kids, they’re playing well, you know, and that is what it is. We’ll have to be as good as we can be, so we’ve got to keep working and be ready to play our best football. We’ll watch them on film. Obviously, we want to get a little better look at them. They like to rush the football, and they throw it effectively too. They play good solid team defense too. They play good run defense, and just run to the ball and tackle you. They’re just a good football team. They’re solid in the kicking game and do things well there. They do the things good, well-coached teams do, so we’ll have to be at our best. You know, that’s a great challenge and a great opportunity.”
Enjoy the open week next Friday night, but be sure to be in your seats and make noise on October 13th when we open district action. We had way too many seats vacant in the Nacogdoches game. The Buckeyes need your presence at the game and need you voicing your support during the game!