The hosts did provide a little excitement for their fans early in the first quarter, but that was short-lived.
Gilmer won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, as they have done every time this season when they have won the toss.
Nick McKee returned Pablin Olivares’ opening kickoff from his 5 out to his 15 to start the first Panther possession. The Black Flag Defense forced a quick three-and-out, and Chase Tate returned Troy Duran’s punt from the Gilmer 26 to the 37, and Tanner Barr led the Gilmer offense on the field for the first time in the contest.
Barr connected with Desmond Pollard on the third play of the possession for a 38-yard gain. Two plays later Barr was dropped for an 8-yard loss, but Panther Morgan Knight was called for a face mask, giving the Buckeyes 15 yards and another first down. On the next play, Kris Boyd ran in from the SH 18. Olivares added the PAT and Gilmer led 7-0 with 7:55 left in the opening frame. The drive was six plays, 63 yards and took 1:42.
Determined to prove they came to the stadium to play, the Panthers shocked Buckeye fans on their next drive, moving 73 yards in 2:33 over only five plays to tie the score at 7-7. The key play in the drive was a 71-yard pass from Jacob Rooney to Waylon McFadin on the second play of the possession. Ardarius Johnson prevented the play from going the distance with a tackle at the Gilmer 8. Nick McKee lost two yards on the next play and Rooney hit Hagen Tucker from 10 yards out for the score on the next play with 5:22 left in the quarter. Troy Duran added the extra point and the Spring Hill fans went wild, hoping to maybe find a way to surprise the Buckeyes. Their excitement evaporated just 14 seconds later.
Gilmer was called for roughing the kicker on the extra point and kicked off from the Gilmer 45. The pooch kick was bobbled for a quick second by Chase Tate and then he grabbed the ball and thanks to some great downfield blocks, he cruised down the Gilmer sideline 88 yards into the end zone to give the Bucks the lead for good. After Olivares kicked the PAT, Gilmer led 14-7.
Coach Jeff Traylor agreed after the game that Tate’s play was a game changer. “Chase is going to always play hard. Chase makes plays. He had some great blocking out in front of us over here on the left side. That’s why we’re dangerous—we’ve got a bunch of good players and they take pride in special teams and they work hard at it. That was a big play in the ball game, honestly, and took the momentum back.”
Olivares next kick was taken at the SH 10 by McKee and he moved the ball up to his 28. Just two plays later, Rooney completed a pass to James Wallis. He was hit and fumbled and Gilmer recovered at the Panther 31. It took only fivep lays and 2:23 for the Bux to get into the end zone for the third time in the first quarter.
Barr threw a 12-yard pass to Nick Smith, then Kris Boyd ran for eight more before Barr hit Smith again for a 1-yard gain. Josh Walker came in on offense and picked up four to the 1 before running into the end zone on the next play. After Olivares kicked the extra point, Gilmer led 21-7 with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
After a pooch kick to the SH 32 on the next kick, the Black Flag forced a three-and-out. Duran hit a 37-yard punt down to the Gilmer 30 that was returned to the 46 by Tate. The Panthers were called for a late hit, and after the 15-yard penalty assessment, Barr led the offense back on the field at the Panther 39.
The Spring Hill defense arched their backs and forced what appeared would be a three-and-out, but Barr faked the punt and threw to an open DeMarco Boyd for a 23-yard gain down to the SH 20. The drive stalled when Gilmer was called for holding. Olivares kicked a 31-yard field goal, capping an 8-play, 25-yard drive that consumed 2:13, and with 10:45 left in the opening half, Gilmer’s lead moved to 24-7.
The Panther return of the ensuing kick was from the SH 6 out to the 32 by McFadin, but thanks to an ill-advised face mask by one of his teammates, the ball was moved back to the 9. To their credit, Rooney and his offensive unit remained calm and collected and went on a 5-play, 91-yard scoring drive that took only 2:07. The big play of the drive came on the fourth play when Rooney hit Nick Irwin for a 76-yard pass and run down to the Gilmer 1. McFadin ran into the end zone on the next play, and the gap closed to 24-13.
Once again, just as Panther fans thought they might climb back into the game, their fortunes tuned on a dime. The point-after attempt was blocked and Josh Walker picked up the pigskin and blasted down the field 90 yards for two more points for Gilmer, and the lead went to 26-13 with 8:34 left in the half.
The next Panther kick was taken by Desmond Pollard at the Gilmer 30 he returned the ball up to the 39. Just three plays and 51 seconds later the Bucks lit up the scoreboard again. Kris Boyd ran the ball all three times. He picked up 29 on the first play, two on the second play, and scored from the 30 on the next play. Olivares added the extra point and Gilmer was up 33-13 with 7:43 left in the half.
The next kick was returned by McFadin from his 12 up to his 27, and the Panthers returned their offense to the field. On the first play of the possession, Rooney hit McFadin for a gain of 48. Just three plays later, Josh Walker blasted through the line and dropped Rooney for a 1-yard loss, and Rooney suffered a severe ankle injury on the play and never was able to return after that point.
Backup quarterback Garrett Plumlee came in to finish the possession, but two plays later a 30-yard field goal attempt by Duran was blocked and Walker returned the ball 45 yards down to the SH 36.
It only took the Bucks 1:18 and five plays to get into end zone again. Key plays on the drive included an 11-yard pass from Barr to Korie Frazier and a 10-yard pass from Barr to Tate. On the next play Darrian Lewis scored on a 4-yard run with 4:16 left in the half. Olivares nailed d the extra point and the Gilmer lead advanced to 40-13.
Garrett Self returned the kickoff 16 yards out to his 25, and Plumlee lead his charges onto the field. The possession was quick, as on the first play Ta’Vin Hunter fumbled the ball and Hunter Anderson recovered for Gilmer at the SH 18.
On the first play of the possession, Barr hit Pollard for a gain of 17, and Walker ran in for the TD from the 1 on the next play, capping a 19-second scoring drive. Olivares was true again on the PAT, and the lead was 47-13 with 3:45 left in the half.
Nick McKee returned the next Olivares kick for 12 yards out to his 29, but on the first p lay of the possession Plumlee was hit six yards behind the line of scrimmage. He lost the ball and Hunter Anderson recovered the ball for Gilmer again, this time at the Panther 30.
It took just 46 seconds and three plays for the Buckeyes to add one more TD before the half. Barr was dropped for a loss of nine on the first play and threw incomplete on the next play before hitting Kris Boyd on a 39-yard scoring pass on the next play. Olivares kicked the extra point and Gilmer led 54-13 with 2:08 left in the half.
Self returned the next kick from his 22 to his 30. The Panthers lost three yards on three plays as the first half came to a close.
Having nothing to lose, Spring Hill kicked onside to begin the second half, but Josh Walker recovered for Gilmer at his 44, and Jaidon Parrish came in at quarterback in relief of Barr. Parrish led what was the lengthiest drive of the night for the Bucks. He moved the team 10 plays that ate 4:17 off the clock. In an attempt to be as sportsmanlike as possible, Coach Traylor sent Tristan Olivares in to attempt a 23-yard field goal on second down. The kick was good and Gilmer led 57-13 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
Breylan Bradford was called for a personal foul and ejected as a result on the kick, so Gilmer kicked off from the Panther 45. Plumlee and his offense could do nothing on the possession, as the Black Flag issued another three-and-out. After the fourth down punt and an illegal blocking penalty on Gilmer on the return, Parrish and the offense returned to the field with the ball at the Gilmer 39.
On the first play of the possession, Chase Tate blasted 61 yards into the end zone with 4:56 left in the quarter. Tristan Olivares hit the PAT, and the lead was 64-13.
After the next kick, Spring Hill took over on their 28. After yet another three-and-out, Gilmer went back on offense at their 27 following an illegal block on the return by Dixon. The Bucks went three-and-out, and the Panthers faced the same fate by the Black Flag on their next possession early in the fourth quarter. The officials began a winding clock at that point in the game to show some mercy and speed up the end of the game.
Gilmer got the ball back at the Buckeye 48 with 8:59 left in the game, but on the third play of the possession, a Parrish pass was intercepted by Blake Ramo, and the Panther offense took over with 7:23 remaining.
The Black Flag forced another one series possession, and Gilmer got the ball back at their 25 with 4:53 left in the game for what would be the final score and final possession of the evening. They took 2:26 and four plays to find the end zone. Kelton Collier ran for nine on the first play before being dropped for a 1-yard loss on the second play. Gilmer was also called for a 15-yard personal foul at the end of the play.
Devin Smith ran for a gain of 30 on the third play of the drive and Collier finished it off with a 53-yard TD run with 2:27 left in the game. Tristan Olivares added the extra point and Gilmer led 71-13.
The Panthers final possession began on their 25. They were called for a false start infraction on the first play, and followed that with a gain of two before losing seven and nine yards respectively, as the clock ran out and the game ended.
With the score being such a blowout, one might surmise that Gilmer never took their foot off the accelerator, but nothing could be farther from the truth. A lot of backups to the backups got significant playing time in the game, and the Gilmer field goal kicked by Tristan Olivares came on a second down play! We discussed how hard it was to try to keep the score down with Coach Traylor. “We played a lot of kids. Some crazy things happened, you know, we returned a kick for a touchdown, we blocked an extra point and got points off of that, they got some turnovers that made a short field for us, and you know, it’s just what it is. They were doing some really good things to us offensively early. It’s a shame their quarterback got hurt. He’s a really good player. I enjoyed watching him play. He plays the game the right way. I think Coach Sartain’s done a really wonderful job with his kids offensively. They do a really good job. They play assignment football—one kid messes up, they hurt us and it was good for our defense. I wish he would have stayed healthy so our defense would have gotten a good workout all night.”
With the playoffs looming just around the corner, Coach Traylor gave backup quarterback Jaidon Parrish a good bit of playing time in the second half as well. We asked him how important it was to get him some field general time during the game. “Jaidon’s a really good quarterback. He can play. We wanted to get him out there and get him some work. You never know. Y’all have seen it happen to us before. You’re only as good as your backups, you know. We always play all our kids and tonight we played them all again.”
We closed our interview by asking the coach’s thoughts about getting out of the game without any major injuries and remaining undefeated on the year. “We’re very blessed at that. Any time you play the game of football and come out of it pretty healthy, you’ve been very blessed and we’re very grateful for that. (I’m) tickled to death (with the team being 8-0 and 4-0 in district play.) Obviously, we’ve still got some things to work on. We’re nowhere near complete, but we’re getting closer.”
The Bucks will get a chance to get even a little closer to complete this Friday night at their final home game of the season when they host the Bullard Panthers on Senior Night. Be sure to be in your seats early and cheer the Buckeyes on to another big win.