Gilmer’s Black Flag Defense Saves Defending Champs From Pleasant Grove’s Upset Bid
MOUNT PLEASANT -- Pleasant Grove had one main mission this season. It wanted to show the world it wasn't 43 points away from being a state championship caliber team whenever its end came.
The Hawks accomplished that objective. Big time.
But the door was open for more. Gilmer, last season's state champion, committed seven of the 11 turnovers in Friday's Class 4A Division II bi-district playoff game at Mount Pleasant's Sam Parker Field and managed to survive, 40-36.
"The future is bright here," Pleasant Grove head coach Josh Gibson said. "The thing that is so cool is that they came from 1-9 and 2-8 (three and two) years ago and we were supposed to finish 1-9 again last year. We were picked dead last in our district, made the playoffs, played Gilmer and they killed us. Our big theme this year was to close the gap and compete with the state's best teams. I think tonight we achieved our goal. We did it with a lot of pups and some really good senior leadership."
Gilmer (11-0), which moves on to play Mexia at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mesquite's Memorial Stadium, defeated the Hawks 50-7 in last season's bi-district playoff meeting.
It never seemed like the Buckeyes were on the ropes in the rematch. At the same time, Pleasant Grove (6-5) dictated the pace of the game as best it could while also capitalizing on what was easily Gilmer's worst offensive and special teams game of the year.
The "Black Flag" Buckeyes defense simultaneously played its best game. Through six turnovers -- one of four interceptions was returned for a pick-six -- it allowed 201 total yards of offense and only one score without the aid of a fumble or interception.
Pleasant Grove was held to 95 yards in the second half. Seventy-six of the yards came on a JaJuan Phillips' end-around score.
"It starts with defense and it starts with the front seven," Gilmer linebacker and defensive line hybrid Demarco Boyd said. "You cannot win a state championship unless you have a good front seven. Defense wins championships and offense wins ball games. We had too many turnovers. We need to come back strong next week and protect the ball. Like we always do in practice."
Boyd and fellow two-way athlete Cambron Granville helped reel the Hawks back in from a 36-21 advantage at the 4:54 mark of the third quarter.
They pounded the ball for 65 yards of an 81-yard drive to get the Buckeyes back within a possession. Boyd crashed in from eight yards out with three minutes left in the period.
Then, back on defense, they helped force Pleasant Grove into a three-and-out.
Gilmer drove down to the Hawks' 6-yard line line before committing its seventh and final turnover. Mark Ashby slid underneath a pass for an interception in the back corner of the end zone with no time left in the frame.
Pleasant Grove recorded one of its three second-half first downs its next drive then punted for the sixth time. A late hit penalty put the Buckeyes at the Hawks' 29-yard line.
Boyd ran for 17 yards, Granville got six yards on two carries and quarterback Zac Spears connected with Zod Heath on play No. 4 to make it a 36-34 game. The quarterback and receiver missed each other on the two-point conversion play with 7:21 left.
Pleasant Grove got a 42-yard kick return from running back Keshawn Jones and an unsportsmanlike penalty against Gilmer's bench advanced its starting position to the Buckeyes' 31-yard line.
The Black Flag defense set up an immediate 3rd-and-10. Desperate to find a workaround, Gibson called a halfback pass intended for quarterback Carson Cox. The throw was picked off by linebacker Preston Smith.
Boyd ripped off a 35-yarder. Granville put ran twice for 32 yards to set up his own, game-winning touchdown of four yards with 4:42 to spare. Gilmer's two-point conversion play was broken up.
Pleasant Grove threw another interception its next offensive snap, but Gilmer turned the ball over on downs by allowing an 8-yard sack while trying to convert a game-ending, 4th-and-five from the Hawks' 21-yard line.
With 2:21 and one timeout left, the Hawks began their final drive at their own 29-yard line. C.J. Grimmett's 5-yard sack on 2nd-and-10 from the 40 forced Gibson to call his last timeout. Pleasant Grove's season ended two incomplete passes later.
"Our guys believe we're always in a game," Gilmer first-year head coach Matt Turner said. "We just didn't play particularly well. Our effort was really good. We just didn't execute and the turnovers were horrible, so we've got to work on that. But it's a real testament to our guys. They believe. We're going to play hard every snap."
Grimmett gave the Buckeyes a boost out of the gate. He returned the opening kickoff 97 yards and then the defense allowed an 11-play drive that went just 29 yards.
But interception No. 1, a ball a receiver dropped into the hands of linebacker Cole Lipham set up a five-play drive capped by a 23-yard Jones touchdown.
Kelton Collier gave Gilmer the lead back with a 33-yard pass reception, 14-7, and the Hawks punted back.
A fumble on a Buckeyes reception and linebacker Xavier Benson's 79-yard return set up a Logan Wesley 7-yard scoring run. The extra point was blocked by Boyd, his first of two blocks in the game, to allow Gilmer to retain a 14-13 lead with 9:41 left in the half.
Sophomore safety Tyler Allen's interception at the 3:13 mark set up Cox's 1-yard, go-ahead dive with 2:15 left in the first act. Allen picked off Gilmer again on its very next offensive play for a 42-yard touchdown and a 27-14 lead.
The Buckeyes cut the halftime deficit to 27-21 with Spears' 16-yard throw to Desmond Jones.
Phillips' long sweep gave Pleasant Grove a two-possession lead once again, 33-21, with 7:24 to play in the third quarter. Gilmer fumbled the ensuing kickoff to allow a Dalton Hinton 39-yard field goal and its biggest deficit.
It will be a long offseason for the Hawks. Not one full of regrets though.
Pleasant Grove returns 25 underclassmen next season.
"I couldn't be more proud of our kids," Gibson said. "Each and everyone of them threw their heart and soul into that game. All week, we tried to build some belief within our kids that we could compete with those guys. I think we did that tonight. We just came up short."
Gilmer 40, Pleasant Grove 36
Class 4A Division II Bi-District Playoff Game
Sam Parker Field, Mount Pleasant
Pleasant Grove 7 20 9 0 -- 36
Gilmer 14 7 7 12 -- 40
GIL--C.J. Grimmett 97 kickoff return (Juan Esquivel kick), 11:47
PG--Keshawn Jones 23 run (Dalton Hinton kick), 3:10
GIL--Kelton Collier 33 pass from Zac Spears (Esquivel kick), 2:03
PG--Logan Wesley 7 run (kick blocked), 9:41
PG--Carson Cox 1 run (Hinton kick), 2:15
PG--Tyler Allen 42 interception return (Hinton kick), 2:15
GIL--Desmond Jones 16 pass from Spears (Esquivel kick), :41
PG--JaJuan Phillips 76 run (kick blocked), 7:24
PG--Hinton 39 field goal, 4:54
GIL--Demarco Boyd 8 run (Esquivel kick), 3:00
GIL--Zod Heath 7 pass from Spears (pass failed), 7:21
GIL--Cambron Granville 4 run (pass failed), 4:42
First Downs 10 21
Total Yards 201 445
Rushes-Yards 47-147 27-146
Passing Yards 54 299
Comp.-Att.-Int. 5-12-3 14-25-4
Punts-Avg. 6-34.8 2-29.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 3-3
Penalties-Yards 4-40 7-50
RUSHING--Pleasant Grove, JaJuan Phillips 9-87, Keshawn Jones 14-44, Logan Wesley 15-22, Carson Cox 9-(-6). Gilmer, Demarco Boyd 7-79, Cambron Granville 10-58, Kelton Collier 2-15, Zac Spears 3-(-3), Devin Smith 5-(-3).
PASSING--Pleasant Grove, Cox 5-11-2--54, Wesley 0-1-1--0. Gilmer, Spears 14-25-4--299.
RECEIVING--Pleasant Grove, Vashon Williams 2-37, Jones 2-10, Phillips 1-7, Wesley 1-0. Gilmer, LaMarcus Morton 5-133, Collier 4-70, Kollin Hurt 1-37, Desmond Jones 2-30, Zod Heath 2-23, Smith 1-6.