Battle of Unbeatens: Traditional Powers Gilmer + Celina Meet Again in Semifinals
CLASS 4A DIVISION II SEMIFINAL
Celina Bobcats (14-0)
Gilmer Buckeyes (14-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Mesquite Memorial Stadium
- Celina: Bill Elliott
- Gilmer: Matt Turner
- Celina: def. Krum, 42-13
- Gilmer: def. Atlanta, 24-15
- Winner faces winner between West Orange-Stark and Cuero, 4A Division II state championship game, 4 p.m. Friday (Dec. 18) at Houston's NRG Stadium
- QB Conner Pingleton, Jr., 6-0, 180 (200 of 266, 3,384 yards, 43 TDs, 6 INTs; 89 carries, 741 yards, 8 TDs)
- RB Jarren Alexander, Sr., 5-9, 210 (84 carries, 664 yards, 9 TDs; 7 catches, 98 yards)
- WR Braydon Watson, Sr., 5-11, 175 (54 catches, 1,108 yards, 16 TDs)
- TE Riley Nebeker, Sr., 6-5, 205 (42 catches, 765 yards, 12 TDs)
- WR Trace Young, Sr., 5-11, 175 (40 catches, 552 yards, 8 TDs; 11 carries, 30 yards, 2 TDs)
- OL Harrison Hubbartt, Sr.
- DL Jared Reeves, Jr.
- DB Trent Lindbald, Sr.
- RB/LB Demarco Boyd, Sr., 6-0, 220 (87 carries, 578 yards, 16 TDs; 32 catches, 382 yards, 4 TDs; 71 tackles, 5 sacks, 20 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 INT, 2 PBUs; committed to Texas)
- S Kollin Hurt, Jr., 6-3, 175 (111 tackles, 10 INTs, 7 PBUs)
- LB Tristain Olivares, Sr., 5-7, 185 (99 tackles, 10 sacks, 17 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles)
- LB Preston Smith, Sr., 6-1, 280 (65 tackles, 6 sacks, 14 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 1 PBU)
- QB Zac Spears, Sr., 5-9, 170 (191 of 341, 2,626 yards, 29 TDs, 10 INTs; 32 carries, 132 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Lamarcus Morton, Jr., 6-2, 175 (32 catches, 575 yards, 6 TDs)
- RB Kelton Collier, Jr., 6-0, 200 (121 carries, 788 yards, 12 TDs; 20 catches, 287 yards, 4 TDs)
- LB Cambron Granville, Sr., 5-7, 160 (82 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 PBUs)
Just the facts
- Gilmer defeated Celina, 67-14, in last season's 4A Division II semifinal.
- Celina and Gilmer have combined for nine state championships.
- Celina is averaging 52.1 points and 493.6 yards per game -- 233.7 rushing and 259.9 passing.
- The Bobcats' defense is allowing 13.2 points per game.
- The cumulative record of Celina's opponents this season is 71-80 (.470).
- Gilmer is averaging 41.1 points and 416.9 yards per game -- 213.9 rushing and 203.0 passing.
- The Buckeyes are currently on a school-record 30-game winning streak.
- The cumulative record of Gilmer's opponents this season is 88-76 (.537).
Key matchup: Celina passing attack vs. Gilmer secondary. When these two teams met a year ago in the semifinals, the game was decided within the first few minutes. Gilmer scored 33 first-quarter points en route to a dominating 67-14 rout, paving the way for the Buckeyes' trip to the 4A Division II title game, a contest they ultimately won. Despite a head coaching change -- longtime boss Jeff Traylor became an assistant at the University of Texas -- and wholesale changes on the state's second-highest scoring offense of all time, all the Buckeyes have done this season is win. Gilmer carries a school-record 30-game winning streak into Friday night, and it's been an experienced defense that's led the way. Led by senior linebacker and Texas commit Demarco Boyd, Gilmer has not only stopped opposing offenses in their tracks, but also forced its fair of share of turnovers. The Buckeyes allow less than 20 points per game, and have come away with 35 turnovers in 14 games -- 19 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries.
When two teams the caliber of Gilmer and Celina meet this deep in the playoffs, the turnover margin often becomes the difference. Buckeyes junior safety Kollin Hurt has 10 interceptions on the year, and eight other Gilmer defenders have at least one interception. In addition, 11 Buckeyes have come away with fumble recoveries, while 11 different Gilmer players have forced fumbles. Just like the Buckeyes offense, the defensive production has been the result of great team effort.
Celina is extremely balanced on offense, but it's been the Bobcats passing offense that's generating most of the big plays. Junior quarterback Conner Pingleton has thrown for almost 3,400 yards with 43 touchdowns to just six interceptions in 266 attempts. His 75.1 completion percentage suggests the Celina signal-caller rarely takes chances, and may not give the Buckeyes' defenders too many opportunities for takeaways. It will up to Gilmer's defensive backs to makes sure the Bobcats' receivers have a difficult time creating separation. Senior wideout Braydon Watson has done the most damage against opposing secondaries, but Celina has two other dangerous options as well with senior tight end Riley Nebeker and senior receiver Trace Young. Those three pass-catchers account for roughly two-thirds of the Bobcats' receiving yards and have caught 36 of the team's 46 touchdown passes.
Don't be surprised if: Friday's semifinal is much closer than last year's meeting. Gilmer came into the 2014 clash outscoring its opponents by an average of 43.6 points, while scoring 60.6 points per game. The offensive numbers are down this season -- 22.0 margin of victory and 41.1 points per game average. Meanwhile, Celina has blown through its 2015 opponents, outscoring foes by an average score of 52-13. This year's game also figures to be much lower scoring. The Bobcats' offense has been impressive, but it is hard to imagine Celina hitting its scoring average against a Gilmer defense that's been on a mission all season long. If the Buckeyes' defense falters, it will be up to a Gilmer offense that's struggled with consistency for most of the year. The Buckeyes have been held to less than 30 points in a game four times this season, including last week's 24-15 quarterfinal win over Atlanta. Turnovers have also been an issue at times for Gilmer, which overcame a seven-turnover performance against Pleasant Grove in the bi-district round of the playoffs.