GILMER -- Despite missing most of 2014's offensive superstars and 15-year head coach Jeff Traylor, the Gilmer Buckeyes began the new year the same way they ended last season: in the winner's circle.

Defending state champion and third-ranked Gilmer held off a talented and experienced Liberty-Eylau squad, 50-45, in each team's season opener Thursday night at the newly-named Jeff Traylor Stadium.

The win gave Gilmer's Matt Turner his first head coaching victory in a career that's spanned more than 30 years as an assistant, the last several as Traylor's offensive coordinator.

Gilmer (1-0) grabbed a 20-point lead in the third quarter, but had to withstand a late push from a Liberty-Eylau (0-1) offense that wore on the Buckeyes for most of the night.

Gilmer's 50-45 season-opening win over Liberty-Eylau on Thursday night gave Matt Turner his first head coaching victory. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

In fact, both defenses struggled throughout, as the two teams combined for 51 first downs and 971 yards of total offense.

Unlike teams of Gilmer past, the Buckeyes relied almost exclusively on their ground game in the second half. Gilmer finished the night with nearly 400 rushing yards, while attempting just one pass in the game's final 24 minutes.

Gilmer sophomore running back Rashaad Ward led all rushers with 105 yards on 11 carries. Senior Demarco Boyd, a two-way standout and Texas commit, finished with 16 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns, and added 64 yards on four receptions.

Junior running back Kelton Collier, another two-way performer, added 62 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Buckeyes receivers had a big night on the ground as well. Junior Desmond Jones picked up 81 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts, while Red Jones finished with four carries for 34 yards.

Liberty-Eylau was as balanced as it was explosive, racking up 270 yards through the air and 221 on the ground.

Gilmer sophomore Rashaad Ward rushed for a game-high 105 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in the Buckeyes' 50-45 season-opening win over Liberty-Eylau on Thursday night in Gilmer. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Senior quarterback Ke'Mon Freeman was 17 of 34 passing for 227 yards with a touchdown and interception, and added 82 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Senior running back Lamont Byrd led L-E with 87 yards and two touchdowns on 14 rushing attempts.

Leopards senior receiver Thurman Morbley caught five passes for 121 yards and a score, and tossed a 43-yard touchdown to senior Decorian Meadows, who finished with nine catches for 105 yards.

Despite a sluggish performance on the defensive side of the ball, Gilmer benefitted from turnovers on consecutive Liberty-Eylau possessions in the third quarter to create some separation.

With the Leopards driving early in the third quarter, Gilmer junior linebacker Jeremy Kelley intercepted Freeman, and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 33-20 lead.

Collier recovered a Leopards fumble on the next series, and the Buckeyes turned the turnover into another score -- a 10-yard touchdown run from Desmond Jones for a 40-20 lead with 4:42 remaining in the third.

L-E regrouped and marched 76 yards in seven plays, scoring on Byrd's 1-run run, which cut the Leopards' deficit to 40-26.

Liberty-Eylau's Ke'Mon Freeman scores a touchdown during the Leopards' 50-45 season-opening loss at Gilmer on Thursday night. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Gilmer was forced into a three-and-out on the ensuing series, and after just an 18-yard punt, the Leopards took over at the Buckeyes' 43. On the very first play of the drive, L-E turned to trickery when Morbley heaved a touchdown pass to Meadows, trimming the deficit to 40-33 with 17 seconds remaining in the third.

The Buckeyes' next drive was extended by a defensive holding call on third-and-long, and four plays later, Ward raced into the end zone from 9 yards out, giving Gilmer a 47-33 lead early in the fourth.

Byrd returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to the Gilmer 21, and on third-and-goal, Freeman called his own number and scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. The point after attempt was blocked, leaving L-E behind 47-39 with 8:44 to play.

Gilmer then proceeded to consume four minutes off the clock before increasing its lead to 50-39 on a 33-yard field goal by Juan Esquivel -- his second of the night.

L-E found the end zone one more time on Byrd's 33-yard run with 2:33 remaining, but Gilmer turned to its rushing attack. Boyd converted a fourth-and-1 play from his own 49, and the Buckeyes were able to run out the clock.

Gilmer and Liberty-Eylau each scored on their first possessions of the game.

The Buckeyes marched 78 yards in 13 plays, scoring on Collier's 6-yard run less than three minutes into the game, while L-E answered with a six-play, 80-yard drive that concluded with a 40-yard touchdown run by junior Kameron Levingston. The Leopards missed the PAT, leaving Gilmer ahead 7-6 with 7:38 remaining in the first.

Following consecutive three-and-outs, Gilmer found the end zone again on Boyd's 3-run scoring run.

Liberty-Eylau's Kameron Levingston breaks loose for a 40-yard touchdown run during the Leopards' 50-45 season-opening loss at Gilmer on Thursday night. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

The Leopards drove 75 yards on the ensuing possession, scoring on a 31-yard completion from Freeman to Morbley, who beat his Gilmer defender on a jump-ball in the end zone on fourth-and-9. Meadows ran in the two-point conversion, which tied the game at 14-14 with 7:38 remaining in the half.

Gilmer got consecutive runs of 19 and 17 yards from Ward, followed by a 29-yard completion from Zac Spears to Boyd to set the Buckeyes up at the 3-yard line on the next series. Boyd ran it in on the next play to regain the lead for Gilmer, 21-14, with 6:04 to play until halftime.

L-E used a 42-yard completion from Freeman to Morbley on its next possession, which set up Freeman's 11-yard touchdown three plays later. Again, the Leopards missed the extra point, which left Gilmer in front, 21-20, with 1:40 remaining in the half.

Gilmer's offense went three-and-out, and L-E took over at its own 20 with 52 seconds remaining, but on fourth down, the snap went over the head of the punting Freeman, whp kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone for a Buckeyes safety.

The Buckeyes got the ball back at the L-E 38 with 35 seconds remaining, enough time for Esquivel to drill a 25-yard field goal as the clock expired, which gave Gilmer a 26-20 halftime lead.

Both teams are in action next Friday night. Liberty-Eylau travels to Mount Pleasant, while Gilmer plays host to Pine Tree.

Liberty-Eylau's Thurman Morbley (4) catches a 31-yard touchdown pass against Gilmer's Jacob Butler (16) during their game Thursday night in Gilmer. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

No. 3 Gilmer 50, Liberty-Eylau 45

At Jeff Traylor Stadium, Gilmer

Liberty-Eylau          6    14    13    12    --    45
Gilmer                    7    19    14    10    --    50

First Quarter
GIL--Kelton Collier 6 run (Juan Esquivel kick), 9:04.
LE--Kameron Levingston 40 run (kick failed), 5:40.
Second Quarter
GIL--Demarco Boyd 3 run (Esquivel kick), 11:32.
LE--Thurman Morbley 31 pass from Ke'Mon Freeman (Decorian Meadows run), 7:38.
GIL--Boyd 3 run (Esquivel kick), 6:04.
LE--Freeman 11 run (kick failed), 1:40.
GIL--Safety, ball snapped out of end zone, :35
GIL--FG Esquivel 25, :00.
Third Quarter
GIL--Jeremy Kelley 81 interception return (Esquivel kick), 8:26.
GIL--Desmond Jones 10 run (Esquivel kick), 4:42.
LE--Lamont Byrd 1 run (pass failed), 2:13.
LE--Meadows 43 pass from Morbley (Daulton Turner kick), :17.
Fourth Quarter
GIL--Rashaad Ward 9 run (Esquivel kick), 10:40.
LE--Freeman 5 run (kick failed), 8:44.
GIL--FG Esquivel 33, 4:44.
LE--Byrd 33 run (pass failed), 2:33.

                                           L-E               GIL
First Downs                           21                30
Total Yards                          491              480
Rushes-Yards                 39-221        59-394
Passing Yards                     270                86
Comp.-Att.-Int.              18-35-1      10-21-0
Punts-Avg.                       4-37.5         4-39.8
Fumbles-Lost                        1-1             2-2
Penalties-Yards               11-110        11-112

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING--Liberty-Eylau, Lamont Byrd 14-87, Ke'Mon Freeman 16-82, Kameron Levingston 6-71, Caleb Jones 2-1, Team 1-(-20). Gilmer, Rashaad Ward 11-105, Demarco Boyd 16-81, Desmond Jones 8-81, Kelton Collier 13-62, Red Jones 4-34, Trendon Brooks 3-23, Zac Spears 4-8.
PASSING--Liberty-Eylau, Freeman 17-34-1--227, Thurman Morbley 1-1-0--43. Gilmer, Spears 10-20-0--86, Kollin Hurt 0-1-0--0.
RECEIVING--Liberty-Eylau, Decorian Meadows 9-105, Morbley 5-121, Garyco Witcher 1-28, Byrd 1-7, Cordell Price 1-5, Levingston 1-4. Gilmer, Boyd 4-64, Hurt 2-5, Collier 2-1, Zod Heath 1-9, Red Jones 1-7.

University of Texas tight ends coach Jeff Traylor, who won three state championships as head coach at Gilmer, looks on during the Buckeyes' 50-45 season-opening win over Liberty-Eylau on Thursday night in Gilmer. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)