GILMER -- Diboll won two of four games at the Division II 7-on-7 state qualifying tournament at Gilmer High School, but its second win will send the Lumberjacks to College Station next month for games against the state's best.

The Lumberjacks took down Carthage, 33-27, in Saturday's semifinal round while Sabine put the final touches on Tyler Grace on the other side of the 50-yard line at Buckeye Stadium to clinch the other state tournament berth.

"We knew they were good, but we weren't intimidated," Lumberjacks junior quarterback Kevin Hurley said of a Carthage team consisting of several carryovers from last year's Class 3A Division I state championship team. "We just came at them."

Carthage's Marquise Guinn reaches for the sticks in the Bulldogs semifinal loss against Diboll. (© Christopher R. Vinn

Up 33-27, Carthage tight end Marquise Guinn came up just short of extending a potential game-tying drive before Hurley and the Diboll crew strung together enough first downs to close the game.

"It's great to move on," junior receiver Jamarcus Polk said. "This will be this group's first time to bring Diboll to College Station for state."

The Lumberjacks have not been to the state's 7-on-7 tournament since 2011. Hurley and Polk were entering eighth grade.

Extending a 7-on-7 season through July is a pretty big deal, especially for the state's smaller schools. The group of programs participating in Gilmer don't have spring football as an option.

The skeleton game, featuring skill position players and a center, is a great way for offenses to get timing down and for the defenders to feel out aerial attacks they'll face this fall.

Considering Diboll and Sabine are going to play 7-on-7 football into July, there won't be a major hiatus between the state tournament and the first day of organized football practice in early August.

"It was a great idea, whoever started it," Gilmer head coach Jeff Traylor said. "The main thing it does is it keeps kids out of trouble. They're staying busy. You've got weight conditioning for about two hours a day and 7-on-7. Kids stay pretty busy all summer and you just bond more when you're together more.

"They're going to stay together in a hotel and eat together. It just causes more chance to be together which means you're going to have a stronger team."

Diboll's Jamarcus Polk converts a critical first down against Carthage in a game that sends the Lumberjacks to College Station. (© Christopher R. Vinn

Traylor and all Texas high school football coaches must turn over their players to coaches not affiliated with their programs. The 7-on-7 coaches are usually members of the community, fans during the regular season, with a strong grasp of what the school will be working with in the fall.

Gilmer's head coach oversaw the tournament as its primary organizer. He made Buckeye Stadium and the adjacent practice field available for play, staffed the press box with a clock operator and a public address announcer in addition to recording scores for the the state 7-on-7 tournament.

"We've put on our own one for 14 years," Traylor said. "We've done it a lot, but the state qualifiers are different because you're answering to the state board of directors and they have a certain way they want it done. We go by what state 7-on-7 tells us to do and they're real good at organizing it."

Gilmer and Chapel Hill both participated in the tournament despite clinching berths to the July 10 and July 11 event near Texas A&M's campus. Both teams performed very well, but ceded games beyond their respective pools so other teams could qualify for the state event.

Diboll opened the day with an 18-12 win against White Oak, fell to Sabine 18-12 and then lost 45-7 against the host team. The Lumberjacks were the second of two teams from 'Pool A' to advance to the semifinals with Gilmer's withdrawal and capitalized in a big way.

Sabine finished second behind Gilmer in the pool.

With Diboll and Sabine both assured spots in the state tournament, the two teams decided to forego a championship game.

"We've played some pretty good teams," Hurley said. "But we'll have to continue to work hard until the state tournament."

Sabine's Tanner Sharp threw for five touchdown passes in a win against Tyler Grace that sends the Cardinals to the Division II 7-on-7 state tournament. (© Christopher R. Vinn

Sabine Edges Tyler Grace

Cardinals quarterback Tanner Sharp got to show off what he can do during the tournament.

Sabine won't have to worry about smart decisions and good throws this season. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior carved into a nice group of Tyler Grace defenders en route to a 35-28 semifinal win.

"They're a good group," Sharp said. "They're very disciplined all the time. They run their routes strong, their defense is strong and they're always high-tempo. I liked that about them."

Sharp threw five touchdowns in a game that will send the Cardinals to College Station.

"Today was a great experience for us," Sabine's quarterback and safety said. "We're always together as a team and always practicing our routes even when the coaches aren't around. We're always getting together and getting better every day."

The Cardinals opened their day with a 48-27 loss against Gilmer before reeling off wins against Diboll and White Oak and advancing to their semifinal game.

"East Texas and Texas in general has the best football in the nation," Sharp said. "Everybody knows this. This is a great place to go out and compete at a high level. It'd be great to win the whole thing because we haven't been in a long time. These guys have been working their butts off this summer and we're looking good."


Gilmer, Chapel Hill Roll

The Buckeyes and Bulldogs gave away their spots in the tournament, but the two teams were on a crash course to meet in the finals.

Gilmer defeated Sabine, Diboll and White Oak in pool play by a combined score of 148-46. Chapel Hill was on the other side of the bracket with wins against Carthage, Hemphill and Tyler Grace coming by no less than 19 points.

"We got a lot of great work today," Buckeyes quarterback McLane Carter said. "It's good to come out here and that our coaching staff wants us to compete. We got great work in today."

Chapel Hill's squad departed from Gilmer immediately after its third win and was not available for comment.

The two schools will be back in action for the state tournament alongside Diboll and Sabine.

"It's a great feeling going back," Carter said. "They were there last year and we're justing going and planning on winning. We're going to try to win the championship. It's a big deal for us with all the routes and all the concepts. Then chemistry is a big part of it. It's a good thing that we have this."


The Scores

Pool A

  • Gilmer 48, Sabine 27
  • Diboll 18, White Oak 12
  • Sabine 18, Diboll 12
  • Gilmer 55, White Oak 12
  • Gilmer 45, Diboll 7
  • Sabine 45, White Oak 19

Pool B

  • Chapel Hill 40, Carthage 6
  • Tyler Grace 24, Hemphill 20
  • Carthage 40, Tyler Grace 21
  • Chapel Hill 36, Hemphill 16
  • Chapel Hill 40, Tyler Grace 14
  • Carthage 39, Hemphill 20

Qualifying Games

  • Diboll 33, Carthage 27
  • Sabine 35, Tyler Grace 28

Diboll's Jamarcus Polk and a Carthage defender battle for a jump ball on the final play of the two teams' semifinal game. (© Christopher R. Vinn