Gilmer Turns The Tide In The Second Half To Defeat West Orange-Stark For Buckeyes’ Third State Title
ARLINGTON -- For 24 minutes, the undefeated and heavily-favored Gilmer Buckeyes were beaten like they'd never been beaten all season.
But they weren't beat.
Gilmer's two less-heralded units -- defense and special teams -- quickly turned the tide in the second half, and the offense took over from there, delivering the Buckeyes their third state championship with a 35-25 win over West Orange-Stark in the Class 4A Division II final in front of 14,953 fans Friday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
The Buckeyes (16-0) trailed by 18 points at halftime, but closed the game with 28 unanswered points.
"The key to this sport is to keep playing, you've got to keep playing," said Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor. "We felt like we had an advantage in our numbers, and we play some good players. We thought if the game was close late in the game it would swing to our side."
Gilmer began the season as the prohibitive favorite in Division II, and became the state's second-highest scoring team of all time along the way, accomplishing that feat with a 67-point effort against Celina in the semifinals a week before.
But the Buckeyes' offense struggled to find traction in the first half, mounting just one three-play scoring drive in a first half doiminated by West Orange-Stark (13-3), which held almost an eight-minute advantage in time of possession through the game's first two quarters.
The second half was a completely different story. Gilmer forced turnovers on West Orange-Stark's first two possessions of the second half, turning both miscues into touchdowns to cut its deficit to 25-21 entering the fourth quarter.
The game's Offensive MVP, senior Blake Lynch, scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback and send Gilmer to the title.
"Our defense was the difference," Traylor said. "(West Orange-Stark) did not punt the ball in the second half. It's hard to get into a rhythm in our offense when you don't have the ball, so our kids never got a chance to get into a rhythm, so our defense is what flipped it."
Gilmer pitched a shutout in the second half, surrendering just 83 yards and forcing three turnovers in the third and fourth quarters. The Buckeyes gave up touchdowns on West Orange-Stark's first four possessions of the game with the Mustangs picking up 235 yards on their way to a 25-7 halftime lead.
"It was pretty hard the first half," said Gilmer junior linebacker Demarco Boyd, who was voted the game's Defensive MVP. "They came out in the first half and did some different things; the offensive line did some different stuff, kinda. We had to come in at halftime and make some adjustments, and I had to step up and let them know that we can't give up."
West Orange-Stark got the ball to start the second half, and drove into Gilmer territory, but Buckeyes junior linebacker Jackson Sikes intercepted Mustangs quarterback Jack Dallas, and Gilmer took over at its own 25.
Gilmer senior quarterback McLane Carter hit Lynch for a 42-yard gain to the Mustangs' 18, and two plays later, he connected with Nick Smith on a 13-yard touchdown to trim Gilmer's deficit to 25-14 with 7:15 to play in the third.
Anticipating an onside kick, West-Orange's deep man on the ensuing kickoff stood at his own 20, and Gilmer kicked it deep where it was eventually recovered by the Mustangs at the 8-yard line.
On first down, Demarco Boyd hit West Orange-Stark running back Trey Baldwin behind the line of scrimmage, and junior defensive end Tristan Olivares forced a fumble that was recovered by Devin Smith in the end zone for a Gilmer touchdown. Those two touchdowns, separated by just 11 seconds, cut the Mustangs' lead to 25-21.
"We threw an interception and they hit a big play, threw a pass in a busted coverage to one of their wideouts off one of our sophomore corners," said West Orange-Stark coach Cornel Thompson. "I think that was the big turning point. Then we came right back and fumble the ball in the end zone and that was a big deal."
West Orange-Stark moved the ball into Gilmer territory on the ensuing possession, but a dropped pass on fourth-and-4 from the 30, returned the ball back to the Buckeyes.
Gilmer's offense then went to work, marching 70 yards in 14 plays. Lynch's 4-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper gave the Buckeyes their first lead -- 28-25 -- with 10:53 remaining in the game. Gilmer was 4-of-4 on third downs during the go-ahead drive.
After forcing a punt, Gilmer put the game away with an eight-play, 83-yard drive higlighted by a 54-yard completion from Carter to Lynch, a play in which the Buckeyes' star receiver had to be helped off the field after suffering cramps.
But a few plays later, Lynch came back in. He picked up eight yards on third-and-3 from the Mustangs' 15, then scored on a 7-yard run on the next play to give Gilmer a 10-point lead -- 35-25 -- with 4:59 remaining.
"We know our offense is good, we just had to keep doing what we do," said Lynch, whose team was held in check offensively in the first half. "We knew we would execute if we just kept doing the same things."
Lynch, who will enroll at Baylor next month after graduating early from high school, finished the game with two catches for 96 yards and 21 yards and two touchdowns on five rushing attempts. He ended his senior season with 2,220 yards of offense and 38 touchdowns.
Carter was 14-of-22 for 245 yards and a touchdown, while senior running back Kris Boyd ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and had four receptions for another 61 yards.
"Our goal is always to get Kris Boyd and Blake Lynch the ball as much as possible," Traylor said. "It's really not that complicated; we're not splitting atoms. When you've got a horse, ride him, and I've got some horses. And that's why you sit here, you don't sit here without players, and I've had great players here for 15 years now."
Dallas, a sophomore who was third on the depth chart at quarterback heading into the offseason, passed for 193 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Baldwin ran for 67 yards and a score on 19 attempts -- almost all of the Mustangs' offense coming in the first half.
"They played as good as I've ever seen them offensively; they really put on a show in the first half," Traylor said of West Orange-Stark. "They were trying to run away from Demarco, and we coached him up in the second half and started putting in some positions where he could make more plays. That helped on defense."
Demarco Boyd, a junior and younger brother of Kris Boyd, finished with five tackles (three for loss) with a sack and pass break-up.
West Orange-Stark was brilliant on offense in the first half, scoring on its four drives and holding a massive time of possession advantage, 18:48 to 5:12. The Mustangs were 7-of-9 on third-down conversions and 2-of-2 on fourth downs by halftime.
"(Offensive coordinator) Ed Dyer and his staff I thought did a heck of a job in preparation of our football team," Thompson said. "We knew they were going to do certain things, and of course Coach Traylor adjusted some things at halftime. But we had some things going on that we thought we could exploit."
The Mustangs' first two scoring drives, which resulted in a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter, totaled 25 plays. The first ended with a Dallas 12-yard touchdown run, and the second was capped by Dallas' 12-yard scoring strike to Jeron Preston.
The Dallas-to-Preston combination worked again on the next Mustangs' drive as the two hooked up for a 50-yard completion on the first play, eventually setting up Dallas' 18-yard touchdown pass to senior Alabama commit Deionte Thompson, which pushed West Orange-Stark's lead to 19-0 with 4:52 remaining in the half.
Gilmer finally got on the board on its next series, and in just three plays -- all 72 yards coming from Kris Boyd. A 54-yard reception on first down preceded a 12-yard run and then a 6-yard scoring run, which trimmed the Buckeyes' deficit to 19-7.
But, West Orange-Stark had the answer after recovering a Gilmer onside-kick attempt near midfield. Baldwin's 1-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds until halftime pushed the Mustangs' lead to 25-7.
A long kickoff return by Gilmer allowed the Buckeyes to get into field goal range right before the half, but Juan Esquivel's 35-yard attempt fell short, and Deionte Thompson fielded the ball in the end zone and raced 102 yards the other way for what appeared to be a dramatic touchdown to end the half.
However, a block in the back call, took the points off the board.
"We were really concerned about how physical, tough and fast those guys were, but we thought if we could keep the game close, we'd have a real advantage in the fourth," Traylor said.
No. 3 Gilmer 35, West Orange-Stark 25
Class 4A Division II State Championship
At AT&T Stadium, Arlington
West Orange-Stark 7 18 0 0 -- 25
Gilmer 0 7 14 14 -- 35
WOS--Jack Dallas 12 run (Hector Vela kick), 5:21.
WOS--Jeron Preston 12 pass from Dallas (run failed), 8:24.
WOS--Deionte Thompson 18 pass from Dallas (kick failed), 4:52.
GIL--Kris Boyd 5 run (Juan Esquivel kick), 4:16.
WOS--Trey Baldwin 1 run (kick blocked), :24.
GIL--Nick Smith 13 pass from McLane Carter (Esquivel kick), 7:15.
GIL--Devin Smith 0 fumble return (Esquivel kick), 7:04.
GIL--Blake Lynch 4 run (Esquivel kick), 10:53.
GIL--Lynch 7 run (Esquivel kick), 4:59.
First Downs 20 17
Total Yards 318 355
Rushes-Yards 40-125 33-110
Passing Yards 193 245
Comp.-Att.-Int. 11-23-2 14-22-0
Punts-Avg. 2-38.0 2-41.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 4-1
Penalties-Yards 4-26 3-25
RUSHING--West Orange-Stark, Trey Baldwin 19-67, Will Johnson 5-26, Jack Dallas 7-17, Jeron Preston 1-8, Jeremiah Shaw 5-7, Keion Hancock 1-4, Melech Edwards 1-1, Team 1-(-5). Gilmer, Kris Boyd 19-84, Blake Lynch 5-21, Jamel Jackson 2-13, Chase Tate 2-7, McLane Carter 3-(-7), Team 2-(-8).
PASSING--West Orange-Stark, Dallas 11-23-2--193. Gilmer, 14-22-0--245.
RECEIVING--West Orange-Stark, Baldwin 5-54, Preston 2-62, Deionte Thompson 2-22, Hancock 1-49, Johnson 1-6. Gilmer, Quinn Fluellen 5-58, Boyd 4-61, Nick Smith 3-30, Blake Lynch 2-96.