Just like last year, both teams already have a playoff berth sewn up, and the winner claims the District 16-3A Championship. Kilgore will be playing in Division I and Gilmer will be in Division II in the playoffs. Both teams have their sights on ending their final game in mid-December with a State Championship trophy at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and both are legitimate contenders to do just that.
Bullard won the coin toss last Friday evening and elected to receive to begin the game. After an 18-yard return of Pablin Olivares’ kickoff, the visitors began at their 25. It was a quick three-and-out, and after a 31-yard punt by Zack Aldridge, Gilmer took over on offense for the first time at their 38.
The Bucks picked right back up where they left off a week prior in Spring Hill. Tanner Barr led the offense on the field for what would be the first of nine touchdowns Gilmer would score on the night. The drive was a quick 5-play affair that took exactly one minute. Kris Boyd ran for 10 on the first play and followed that up with a 17-yard scamper before Barr tossed a 6-yard pass to Desmond Pollard. Boyd followed that with a gain of 27 on another run and on the next play Darrian Lewis ran into the end zone from the 2. Pablin Olivares added the PAT and with 8:50 left in the opening quarter, Gilmer led 7-0.
Bullard’s next possession began on their 21, and once again the Black Flag Defense forced another three-and-out. Aldridge’s 35-yard punt was taken by Chase Tate at the Gilmer 43 and he returned it out to the Bullard 46 where Gilmer went on offense again.
This possession was a 4-play, 46-yard scoring drive that took 1:29. After Barr was dropped for a loss of four on the first play, Boyd ran for 13 and Lewis followed that with a 10-yard run before Barr hit Boyd on a 27-yard scoring strike with 5:47 left in the first quarter. Olivares added the extra point and the score moved to 14-0.
The third Panther possession ended just like the first two, and Aldridge hit a 27-yard punt that went out of bounds at midfield and Gilmer went on the offensive again. The Bucks moved the ball 26 yards in five plays and took 1:51 off the clock before Olivares attempted a 41-yard field goal. The kick was just wide left and no good, and Bullard took over on their 24 with 2:23 left in the quarter. Austin Shelton reeled off a run of 27 yards on the first play, but the Black Flag shut the door on the next series and Aldridge hit a short 20-yard punt from midfield down to the Gilmer 30.
Barr led his offensive unit the 70 yards into the end zone in just 1:14 on a 5-play drive. The score came on a 57-yard run into the end zone by Boyd with 11:47 left in the first half. Olivares nailed the point after and Gilmer led 21-0.
The ensuing Panther drive started at their 14 and resulted in another three-and-out. A 35-yard by Aldridge was not returned, but the Buckeyes were called for a roughing the kicker and they were penalized 15 yards and Bullard got a first down by penalty. It mattered little, as the Black Flag surrendered only one yard in the series and Aldridge punted again. His 40-yard boot was returned from the Gilmer 36 to the 42 by DeVondrick Dixon, and the Bux went on offense yet again.
This drive was a 5-play, 58-yard one that took only 44 seconds off the clock. After consecutive 9-yard gains on a Barr to Quinn Fluellen pass and a Josh Walker run, Barr threw incomplete before Walker gained 39 down to the 1 on a rushing attempt. Boyd ran in from the 1 on the next play and after Olivares’ kick Gilmer was up 28-0.
Jacob Shelton returned the next kickoff 17 yards out to his 24, but the Bullard possession netted just seven yards on three plays and Aldridge had to punt again. The 26-yard punt went out of bounds on the Gilmer 40 and Barr and company hit the field again.
It took just six plays and 1:30 for the Bucks to move the 60 yards for their fifth TD of the night. The score came on a 5-yard pass from Barr to Nick Smith with 4:10 left in the half. After Olivares split the uprights the lead moved to 35-0.
Bullard’s next possession began on their 22. They did manage one first down on the strength of a 30-yard run by quarterback Connor Mebane, but on the last play of the half Mebane’s pass was intercepted by Dakeilan Nelson at the Gilmer 5, ending any hopes the visitors had of a score in the first two quarters.
The Panthers attempted an onside kick to begin the second half, but Gilmer recovered at the Buckeye 42 and had their shortest scoring drive of the game. Barr hit Pollard on a 58-yard scoring pass on the first just play of the possession. The play took just 17 seconds and after the PAT by Olivares the Gilmer lead was 42-0 with 11:43 left in the third quarter.
Bullard began their next drive after the kickoff at their 34, but it was another three-and-out by the Black Flag. Aldridge hit a 25-yard punt that Chase Tate took at the Gilmer 37 and returned out to his 43.
Just three plays later the Buckeyes found the end zone again. Darrian Lewis ran for six on the first play and Barr followed that up with a 25-yard jaunt before Kris Boyd ran into the end zone from the 26 for the touchdown with 8:21 left in the quarter. Olivares added the PAT and the score advanced to 49-0.
Mercifully for the visitors, the clock began running with the next kickoff and stopped only for time outs and extra points from that moment on. Zack Eschberger took the Olivares kick at his 10 and returned it out to his 30. The Panthers picked up one first down, but Aldridge had to punt again on the next series. He shanked a 12-yard kick that went out of bounds at the Gilmer 46.
Jaidon Parrish relieved Barr at quarterback on the possession, and the result of the drive was predictable. Parrish led the team the 54 yards for another TD in just six plays that consumed only 2:41 off the third quarter clock. Key plays in the drive were a 20-yard pass from Parrish to DeVondrick Dixon, a 22-yard run by Lewis and a 20-yard scoring run by Lewis with 1:06 left in the quarter. Tristan Olivares came in for the PAT, but the kick was blocked, leaving the score 55-0.
Tristan handled the kickoff duties after the score. His kickoff went to the 5 and was returned to Bullard 35 before the returner fumbled the ball away. The Buckeyes made an obvious recovery, and one official signaled Gilmer’s ball. Just as the offense was preparing to come back on the field, the official reversed the call and signaled Bullard’s ball. The obvious snafu made little difference, as the Black Flag only allowed two yards in three plays and Aldridge hit a 38-yard punt. Pollard took the ball up to the Gilmer 40, but the Bucks were called for a 15-yard penalty and the drive began back at the Gilmer 26 with 10:12 left in the game.
Parrish connected with Nelson for a 42-yard gain on the first play of the drive. Walker then rushed for 19. A face mask by the visitors added additional yardage. Zac Spears came in a quarterback at that point. He ran for four and followed that with a run of two yards. He threw into the end zone on the next play and Bullard was called for pass interference on the incompletion, setting the Bucks up on the Panther 2. On the next play Spears hit Devin Smith for the final Gilmer TD of the night with 6:17 left in the game. Tristan Olivares added the extra point and Gilmer led 62-0.
Eschberger returned the final kickoff of the night from his 6 to his 45 where the final Panther possession began. The visitors ran seven plays during the possession, picking up 35 yards total. Austin Skelton gained eight on the final play of the game as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Bucks closed the door with the shutout win.
Coach Jeff Traylor was very pleased with his team’s performance. “Our kids wanted to go out with a bang here at home and we played really well. (Bullard Head Coach) Shannon (Wilson) does a really good job with his kids. They’re really well-coached, but he’s lost a lot of kids. He’s pretty injured right now. Our seniors wanted a shutout and they got ‘em one. It just means a lot to those kids. Life goes by really fast when you’re that age and you don’t appreciate it, and when you’re a senior it just hits you like a ton of bricks. Those juniors and sophomores have no clue. They think they’ll be playing here forever and then they’re going to blink and next year they’ll be here. It’s just kinda the cycle of life. I’ve seen it 14 times and have been blessed to see 14 great groups come through here, and this is another great group.”
We also had a chance to visit with Black Flag defensive leader and Texas A&M commit Josh Walker and asked his thoughts about the defense getting their first shutout of the season and the first since the Tatum game the second game of the 2011 season.
“It means a lot, especially to the seniors. To have a shutout is good. We haven’t had one in two years. We’ve been looking for one all season and our defense is good enough where we should have had about four or five of them, but it’s just sign that we’re coming on, and hopefully, it’s a good sign and we’ll try to get that win next week.”
We asked Coach Traylor his thoughts about the upcoming showdown on Friday night in Kilgore against the Bulldogs for the District Championship. “They are a great program, a lot of tradition, a lot of great players. What a great thing. It’s going to be awesome for both communities. What a great warm-up for the playoffs. We can’t wait. We’re excited to be in it, and I know they are too. It ought to be an unbelievable atmosphere, and we’re really excited. You just never know. You’re talking about 18-year old kids. We’re worried about a whole lot more than they are. They’re thinking about eating a hamburger and talking to a girl and getting someone’s phone number tonight, so who knows what we’ll be like. We’ll go over and play the best we can, and I’m sure they will too.”
We also got Josh’s thoughts about the big showdown in Kilgore. “I’ll be ready next week. Last year we held them on the 5-yard line with about 40 seconds left, so you know it’s one of those things. It’s like Coach Traylor said, he knows he’s not going to have to say anything to us all week in practice. We know it’s going to be a big game. Like you said, we’re a better team. It’ll just be whoever’s ready to play that night, and we’ll be ready.”
We also asked Josh the team’s thoughts about the “Beat the Buckeyes” t-shirts Kilgore was selling at their home game against Chapel Hill on Oct. 25. “It fired us up. We said something about it and it’s in the back of our mind. We know we’re the Gilmer Buckeyes, so we don’t let it bother us. We’ll just go out and play hard and get the win.”
The Gilmer fan attendance at the Bullard game was, to be blunt, disappointing. Friday night’s game in Kilgore will be a knock-down, smash-mouth game from start to finish. Our Buckeyes both deserve and urgently NEED your attendance at R.E. St. John Stadium Friday night. Make sure you make the short trip to Kilgore and get in the stands early and be loud and proud and cheer the Buckeyes on to their 12th District Championship in the last 14 years. GO BUCKEYES!