We asked Coach Traylor about the fast start for his team, as the offense ran one offensive play and scored and then the Black Flag Defense scored on a pick 6, pushing the Bucks out to a 15-0 lead just one minute and forty-three seconds into the first quarter. “Sometimes it is a curse because you think it is going to be that easy, and I knew with those seniors (on the Bullard team) it wasn’t going to be. They had a great plan and they did a great job; bunch of great seniors, and I have a lot of respect for Coach Wilson and the job they’ve done over there.”
We also asked the Buckeye boss if he and his staff had seen something on video that made him know the onside kick, which was a key point in the game, would work. “Yeah, we did, but more than that we just couldn’t stop them. Our defense has played fantastic for eight straight weeks and they finally played bad and offensively we finally played good. We kinda helped them for once. That’s what teams do—great teams find a way, and this team all year’s just found a way.”
Additionally, we asked the coach’s early thoughts on facing the ‘Dogs at home in Buckeye Stadium with a Championship on the line. “They’ve (the Buckeyes) just been fantastic all year. We’ve got a lot of work to do. They have a great program in Kilgore—a 4A Quarterfinalist last year dropping down. They’re a really good football team. We’ll worry about that tomorrow. We’re going to enjoy tonight. I’m just glad we’re finally in (the playoffs) and I get to make the playoff decisions now. We’re home, last time ever (to see the home side of Buckeye Stadium as it has been for the last 50 years). It will be a historic night. I just hope we get it done.”
Bullard won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. Chase Tate returned the opening kickoff from the Gilmer 5 to the 20. On the first play from scrimmage Kris Boyd raced 80 yards down the field just 23 seconds into the game and didn’t stop till he was in the end zone. Pablin Olivares added the PAT and the Buckeyes were out to a quick 7-0 lead.
Zack Holladay returned the ensuing kick out to his 34, and Bullard set up on offense for the first time. After gaining no yards in two tries, Bullard went to the air on 3rd-and-10 and Colton Mebane was intercepted by DeVondrick Dixon who raced untouched into the end zone for the pick 6. Walker took a direct snap on the PAT and ran into the end zone, putting the Bucks up 15-0 with 10:17 left in the first quarter.
It didn’t take the Panthers long to bounce back, as they went on a 6-play, 67-yard drive that consumed 2:22. Holladay returned the kick to his 33, and Mebane and company got their offense clicking. He hit Haden Bryant for 11 on the first play, and then on the next series he hit his twin brother Connor Mebane for a gain of 39 on a 3rd-and-7. Brentavian Henderson ran for five and then Mebane hit Bryant again from 10 yards out for the score with 7:57 left in the opening quarter. Weston Gray hit the extra point, and the Gilmer lead was cut to 15-7.
The next Gilmer possession began with a touchback out to the Gilmer 25. Tanner Barr led his team up the field for two first downs, but on the next series they were forced to punt the ball. Holden Bryant fair-caught the ball at the Bullard 19.
Dylan Bowman intercepted Mebane on the first play of the drive and the Bux were in great shape at the Panther 30. Thanks to a stiff defense and a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul, Barr was forced to punt the ball away. The kick went from the 50 down to the Bullard 2.
Undaunted by the poor field possession, the hosts took only 2:48 and eight plays to move the 98 yards for their second TD of the night. The score came on an 11-yard run by Sal Guiliano with 50.3 seconds left in the first quarter. Gray hit the extra point and Bullard was suddenly back within one point and trailed only 15-14.
The Buckeyes went three-and-out on their next possession. Bullard picked up one first down on their next possession before the Black Flag forced a three-and-out on the next series. Gray’s punt was taken by Bowman at the Gilmer 19 and he returned it to the 20.
Knowing they couldn’t afford to give the determined Panthers any reason to get even more confidence, Barr moved the offense 80 yards to the end zone in just 3 plays and 1:24. Josh Walker picked up one yard, Patrick Finch caught a 5-yard pass on second down and Barr then connected with Walker on a 74-yard TD pass with 7:04 left in the first half. Olivares was true on the PAT and Gilmer’s lead increased to 22-14.
The Black Flag forced another three-and-out. After a 56-yard punt, Gilmer took over at their 23. Once again the offense made it look easy. Barr hit Finch on a 22-yard pass gain on the first play and then ran for 10 on the second play before the Bucks used a halfback option to get into the end zone from 45 yards out, capping a 3-play, 77-yard drive in 1:01. Chase Tate took the handoff and threw down the left side to a wide open Kris Boyd who raced untouched into the end zone. Gilmer was called for a 5-yard delay of game penalty, but Olivares easily nailed the extra point and the lead was back to 29-14 with 4:14 left in the first half.
An Olivares pooch kick was fair caught at the Bullard 34 and Mebane led his troops back onto the field. The Panthers moved 53 yards in 11 plays and took 2:44 off the clock, but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Gray. The kick closed the gap to 29-17 with 30.4 seconds left till halftime.
It looked like the Buckeyes might be able to score again, but it wasn’t to be. Barr picked up 23 on a run and then threw incomplete on the next play before hitting Finch for a gain of 22, down to the Bullard 30. Two incomplete passes later the half ended and the teams headed off the field.
Guiliano returned the opening kick of the second half from his 28 to his 37. In the longest drive of the night by either team up to that point, the Panthers went on a 12-play, 63-yard TD drive that took 5:18 off the clock. Key plays in the scoring drive were a 21-yard pass from Colton Mebane to his brother Connor, along with a questionable pass interference call against the Buckeyes. The score came on a 1-yard run by Henderson with 6:42 left in the 3rd quarter. After Gray’s PAT, Bullard was suddenly back in the game, trailing 29-24.
Sensing that momentum was swinging back toward the home team, the offense knew they needed to rise to the occasion. They did just that, moving 74 yards in six plays and 1:46, scoring on a 12-yard run by Josh Walker with 4:49 left in the 3rd quarter. Olivares added the point after, and the Buckeye lead was 36-24.
Coach Traylor decided to kick onside on the kickoff, and Slade Morris recovered the pigskin for Gilmer at the Panther 44. The gamble paid off, and four plays and 44 yards later, Walker found the end zone again on a 5-yard TD run. The drive consumed 2:25. Olivares made the extra point kick and Gilmer led 43-24.
The never-give-up Panthers responded yet again. Haden Bryant returned the kick from his 15 out to his 36. From there, it took 2:46 and eight plays for the hosts to get into the end zone again. The score came on a 1-yard TD run by Henderson with 11:13 left in the game. Mebane ran in for a 2-point conversion, and Bullard narrowed the score to 43-32.
Tate returned the next kick from his 7 out to his 23 where the Bucks set back up on offense. On the third play of the possession, Barr’s pass was intercepted and returned for a TD by Holden Bryant. Gray made the extra point and Bullard was back to within four, trailing 43-39 with 10:16 left in the contest.
Determined to take the wind out of the Panthers’ sails, Gilmer started their next possession at their 30. It took only two plays and 19 seconds for the Buckeyes to find the end zone yet again. Barr ran for 28 on the first play before Jamel Jackson ran into the end zone from the 42. Olivares was true again on the extra point and Gilmer led 50-39 with 9:57 left in the game.
The Panthers took the ball at their 43 after a 26-yard return of the next kick by Henderson. They managed one first down, but then faltered on the next series and turned the ball over on downs at the Gilmer 43 with 7:44 left in the game.
The Buckeyes went on a 10-play, 57-yard scoring drive that ate 5:23 off the clock, scoring on a 5-yard run from Barr with 2:21 left in the game. Olivares kicked the PAT and Gilmer led 57-39.
The ensuing kick was fair caught at the Bullard 32. The Black Flag peeled their ears back and forced a punt down to the Gilmer 43. Barr went into victory formation on first down and the clock ran out, setting the stage for this Friday night.
The Buckeyes need EVERY BUCKEYE FAN to be in the stadium and making noise Friday night. Nothing would be finer than to bid farewell to the old home side seating and the long-ago worn-out press box than to go out with a bang and a District Championship. Don’t let the team down. GO BUCKEYES!!!