“It was a struggle. It was exactly the type of game I’d thought it would be,” said Traylor, who picked up his 100th career victory. “It was a great win.”
Gilmer senior Stump Godfrey, who has quarterbacked the Buckeyes to 29 of Traylor’s wins, praised his coach. “He’s a great coach, he’s unbelievable,” said Godfrey. “He’s got a great team that believes what he says, and they’re going to get him those wins.”
Thanks to Mikey Wilson’s 23-yard kickoff return, Gilmer started the game with great field position at the Leopards’ 49-yard line. Godfrey led the Buckeyes down to the Liberty-Eylau 15-yard line before the offense stalled and Adan Olivares hit a 32-yard field goal to give Gilmer a 3-0 lead with 8:21 to play in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes’ next two possessions were dismal at best, as Gilmer went backwards 23 yards on consecutive three-and-out series, giving the Leopards the football at the Buckeyes’ own 29-yard line after a Luke Turner punt from the end zone and then at the Gilmer 40-yard line after a fumble.
“We mostly stopped ourselves, whether it was a low snap, dropped ball, or a mental bust or a holding penalty,” said Traylor.
But thanks to the Buckeyes’ Black Flag Defense, the Leopards only managed to tie the score on a 25-yard field goal by Andrew Morsmen with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Gilmer took the lead back on their first series of the second quarter, as Godfrey capped off a 68-yard, 7-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 7:32 to go in the half. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, and the Buckeyes led 9-3.
The Leopards answered right back with a 68-yard, 8-play drive that ended when Trey Norman connected with Marquez Clark, who had gotten behind Gilmer’s Tristan Holt, on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 4:14 left in the half. The extra-point kick by Morsmen was good for a 10-9 Liberty-Eylau lead.
Trailing for the first time this season, Gilmer took the football and drove 51 yards in 15 plays, before settling for an Olivares 42-yard field-goal attempt, in part because of two holding penalties against the Buckeyes. The kick was short and the Leopards ran out the first-half clock with a one-point lead.
“We didn’t play very well the first half,” said Traylor. “We had a lot of penalties that kept killing our drives. Those holding penalties were hard on us. It’s just hard to overcome those 10-yard penalties against a team like Liberty-Eylau.”
Things only got worse for the Buckeyes at the start of the second half, when the Leopards’ Kendrick Ray took the opening kickoff 22 yards to the Liberty-Eylau 49-yard line. Five plays later Alex Watson connected with Clark on a 34-yard touchdown over Holt for a 17-9 Leopards’ lead with 9:13 to play in the third quarter.
Holt placed the blame squarely on his shoulders. “I felt bad because I thought I had let the team down,” said the senior cornerback/receiver about the Leopards’ two touchdown passes.
“When you play out there alone in man coverage, that’s going to happen to you,” explained Traylor. “I just told him to make the next play. And he did. He responded very well and he handled the adversity great.”
Holt took Traylor’s advice and returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards to the Liberty-Eylau 17-yard line. Two plays later, Godfrey danced and juked his way past four Leopard defenders for a 9-yard touchdown run. Gilmer’s 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game failed, leaving the Leopards with a 17-15 lead with 8:32 remaining in the third quarter.
That’s when the Buckeyes’ defense took over. On the Leopards’ next three possessions, Gilmer allowed only two yards on six plays, recovered two fumbles and forced a punt.
“I think they made some pretty good adjustments at halftime,” said Liberty-Eylau head coach Pat Brady. “I saw five white jerseys in my backfield the second half that I know weren’t back there in the first half.”
The Buckeyes’ offense responded with Godfrey’s third touchdown run of the game, this time from a yard out to take a 21-17 lead with 6:52 to go in the third quarter.
“We thought we could come in and throw the ball, but they changed what they were doing on defense and we had to change what we were doing,” explained Godfrey, who finished with 84 yards on 17 carries while throwing for only 158 yards on 11 of 21 passes.
Godfrey’s longest completion on the night gave the Buckeyes their next score when a simple screen pass to Holt turned into dazzling 68-yard touchdown, as Holt broke five tackles on his way to the end zone and a 28-17 lead with 5:15 left in the third quarter.
“That kind of broke our back,” admitted Brady about Holt’s long touchdown. “We just kind of fell apart in the third quarter.”
Gilmer completed the come from behind win when Holt scored on an 11-yard run with 7:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Number three (Holt) turned into one of the best players I’ve ever seen,” marveled Brady. “He was unbelievable. I didn’t think he was that kind of offensive player.”
Traylor was pleased with Holt, who finished with 150 all-purpose yards. “I was very proud of Tristan Holt just for handling the adversity,” said Traylor, who also praised his quarterback. “He had a lot of adversity in the first half and he responded very well.”
“That’s when you know you have good leaders; when things go bad, and you come back from it. That is what sports is supposed to be teaching us,” Traylor concluded.
Godfrey passed the credit on to one of his offensive linemen. “Beau Blair gave a great speech at halftime,” said Godfrey. “He talked about Mr. [Matt] Camp and it was unbelievable. It brought tears to my eyes. It shook the whole team up. We knew that we’re going to face adversity day in and day out, and the key is how you handle that adversity. That second half was for Mr. Camp.”
While Traylor was pleased with his team’s comeback win, he was also concerned. “That scares me,” confessed Traylor. “On one hand I’m very excited that we responded to the situation; on the other hand I don’t want to coach a team that is going to play just when they want to play. I want us to play with intensity, not emotion.”
Traylor said he is certain about one thing. “I know we got better playing a good team like that.”
1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total
Gilmer 3 6 19 7 35
Liberty-Eylau 3 7 7 0 17
First Downs 14 11
Passing-Comp/Att/TD/Int 11-22-1-0 4-12-2-0
Passing-Yards 158 88
Rushes-Yards 36-199 39-135
Total Yards 357 223
Time of Possession 24:43 23:17
Fumbles Lost 1 2
Penalties-Yards 8-80 7-66
Gilmer 35, Liberty-Eylau 17