[Anthony Hawthorne, Special to ETSN.fm]

LONGVIEW -- The Gilmer offense struggled for nearly three quarters Friday night. Fortunately, they had a bit of help.

The Black Flag defense rose to the occasion with an impressive performance, as the Buckeyes won their 30th consecutive game, defeating Atlanta 24-15 in the Class 4A Division II, Region II championship game in front of a packed house at Pine Tree’s Pirate Stadium.

Gilmer (14-0) advances to play Celina, a 42-13 winner over Krum, next Friday at Mesquite Memorial Stadium with a spot in the 4A Division II state championship game on the line.

It wasn’t pretty at times for the Buckeyes, who had three turnovers to help Atlanta (9-5) to all 15 of its points. But Demarco Boyd finally got the offense going late.

Holding the 10-7 lead they had at the half, the Buckeyes gave Boyd his first carry of the night late in the thid quarter after their opening possessions of the second half resulted in a punt and a turnover.

Gilmer running back Demarco Boyd reaches the end zone on a short run. (Ruel Filipe, ETSN.fm)

The senior Texas commitment went right to work.

After quarterback Zac Spears got his team out of their own end with a pair of completions to Red Jones and a 42-yarder to LaMarcus Morton, Boyd took his first three carries for 4, 14, and 9 yards to the Atlanta 3-yard line before taking it in himself.

It was a huge spark to an offense that had produced just nine yards on their previous four possessions combined.

The defensive duo of Keyuntea Kinney and Tristan Allen helped keep the Rabbits alive.

Kinney, who spent a large portion of his evening in the Buckeyes backfield wreaking havoc, got to Spears who threw deep where Allen picked it off and returned it to the Gilmer 10-yard line.

Layton Henson, who replaced an injured Jeremy Smith in the second half, picked up seven yards on second down and Tyrell Phillips got in the end zone on the next play from a yard out. Henson tacked on the two-point conversion, cutting the Gilmer lead to 17-15.

Phillips led the way on the ground for the Rabbits. He had 66 yards on 16 carries.

Boyd was huge once again on the next drive for the Buckeyes, opening with five consecutive carries, picking for 27 yards before a fourth-and-5 at Atlanta's 26.

He then picked up just enough on a pass from Spears for the first down.

He wasn’t done, however. Facing fourth-and-4, Spears went right back to the Division I prospect for an 11-yard gain to the Rabbits 4-yard line.

Boyd ultimately punched it in for the 24-15 final score.

“He’s a great leader and a great player,” coach Matt Turner said of Boyd. “When it gets down to that part of the game he’s the kind of guy you’re going to lean on. He answered tonight, as he has his whole career.”

Atlanta's Tylerr Phillips is brought down by Jamaal Wheeler (26) and Myles Chumley (18) for no gain. (Ruel Filipe, ETSN.fm)

After forcing a three-and-out, Atlanta never saw the ball again as Boyd and Cambron Granville combined to pick up four first downs and run the clock out.

While the Buckeye offense usually finds the headlines, especially over the past several seasons, it was the defense that stood out.

The Buckeyes held Atlanta to just 192 yards of total offense -- just 67 after the break. The Rabbits entered the game averaging 40 points per game and more than 400 yards of offense.

Despite giving the ball away three times offensively, the Gilmer defense more than held their own, only giving up a score when the Atlanta offense started a drive inside the 10-yard line.

“Our defense was unbelievable” Turner said. “It didn’t matter if our offense sputtered, our guys were prepared to play defense the whole night against a real good opponent with some very skilled kids. They just kept stepping up and answering.”

Boyd, who also finished with four tackles for loss, carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards and both second half scores, knew the offense would get going eventually.

“The defense played pretty good,” Boyd said. “We did well stopping them but the offense struggled a bit. The good thing is when you have a good defense you’ll keep giving your offense chances and sooner or later we knew the offense would produce.”

Zod Heath pulls in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Gilmer quarterback Zac Spears for a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. (Ruel Felipe, ETSN.fm)

Despite the struggles turning the ball over, the offense produced 345 yards -- 215 yards coming after the half.

Spears completed 17 of 32 passes, spreading the ball to nine different receivers, for 181 yards and a score. Granville picked up 59 yards on 18 carries and got better as the game went along, accumulating 58 of those yards over his last 10 totes.

Gilmer now faces a familiar opponent in Celina, who they defeated 67-14 in last season's semifinal matchup.

“We have tremendous respect for Celina,” Turner said. “We know what they’re all about. They’ve got a tremendous program and team. We’ll have to be at our very best next week.”

Both teams struggled to find their footing in the first half of the defensive battle.

After forcing a Gilmer punt on the Buckeyes opening possession, the Rabbits moved the ball with relative ease.

Smith and Phillips helped moved the ball into the red zone, but a false start set the Rabbits back. After Boyd and Zod Heath combined for a 2-yard loss on third down, Conley Richardson’s 30-yard field goal attempt went wide right.

A Gilmer mistake on the next drive resulted in points for the Rabbits.

Spears dropped back on third-and-9 and threw one into the flat that Desmond Robinson jumped in front of and raced 24 yards for a score, giving the Rabbits a 7-0 lead.

Devin Smith helped put the Buckeys on the board on the ensuing kickoff, taking it back 50 yards to the Atlanta 26. The drive stalled and Juan Esquivel booted a 36-yard field goal, cutting the Atlanta lead to 7-3 with 1:54 remaining in the first quarter.

Gilmer’s defense forced a three-and-out as Boyd tackled Smith five yards behind the line, and the Buckeyes set up at their own 40.

Kelton Collier picked up 9 yards on third-and-7 to the Rabbits 17-yard line. Two plays later, Spears connected with Heath up the middle for an 18-yard score.

Esquivel’s extra point gave the Buckeyes the 10-7 lead they carried into the half.

Cambron Granville grinded out 59 yards on 18 carries in the Buckeyes win. Gilmer will face Celina in the Class 4A Division II state semifinal round. (Ruel Filipe, ETSN.fm)

Gilmer 24 Atlanta 15

Class 4A Division II Region II Quarterfinals

Pine Tree's Pirate Stadium, Longview

Atlanta         7          0          0          8
Gilmer         3          7          7          7
First Quarter
ATL – Desmond Robinson 24 interception return (Conley Richardson kick) 4:28
GIL – Juan Esquivel 36 field goal
Second Quarter
GIL – Zod Heath 18 pass from Zac Spears (Esquivel kick) 10:56
Third Quarter
GIL – Demarco Boyd 3 run (Esquivel kick) 3:58
Fourth Quarter
ATL – Tyrell Phillips 1 run (Layton Henson run) 11:20
GIL – Boyd 3 run (Esquivel kick) 6:33
                                    ATL                GIL
First Downs                9                     15
Total Yards                192                 345
Rushes-Yards          38-116           39-164
Pass Yards                 76                   181
Comp-Att-Int             6-19-1           17-32-3
Penalties-Yards         4-35                4-20
Fumbles-Lost             2-0                  2-0
Punts-Avg                  5-36                4-37
INDIVIDUAL STASTISTICS
Rushing – Atlanta, Jeremy Smith 18-39 Tyrell Phillips 16-66 Kelton Young 2-8 Layton Henson 2-3. Gilmer, Cambron Granville 18-59 Devin Smith 3-2 Kelton Collier 7-31 Desmond Jones 1-0 Demarco Boyd 10-72.
Passing – Atlanta, Smith 5-15-0 69 Henson 1-3-1 6 Carson Lambert 0-1-0. Gilmer, Spears 17-32-3 181
Receiving – Atlanta, Lambert 1-7 Jacobi Hamilton 2-40 Cade Coulter 1-24 Parker Simmons 1-6 Phillips 1-(-2). Gilmer, Kollin Hurt 1-13 LaMarcus Morton 4-64 Smith 1-9 Desmond Jones 2-34 Zod Heath 1-18 Cameron Bowman 2-20 Red Jones 3-11 Granville 1-(-4) Boyd 2-16.