Celina Ends Defending Champ Gilmer’s 30-Game Winning Streak With 49-44 Semifinal Victory
MESQUITE -- The Celina Bobcats scored twice on defense, twice on plays covering 60 yards or more, and avenged last season's ugly semifinal defeat by stopping defending champion Gilmer's 30-game winning streak.
Celina overcame two 14-point deficits in the first half, surged ahead early in the fourth quarter, and held off the Buckeyes, 49-44, in their Class 4A Division II state semifinal Friday night at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
The Bobcats (15-0) will meet the winner of Saturday afternoon's clash between West Orange-Stark and Cuero in the title game at 4 p.m. Friday (Dec. 18) from Houston's NRG Stadium.
Gilmer, which had not suffered defeat since a third-round playoff loss to eventual state champion Argyle in 2013, finished its first season under head coach Matt Turner at 14-1.
"You've got to give (head coach) Bill Elliott and the Celina Bobcats a lot of credit," Turner said. "They played good football and they made a few more plays than we did."
Celina advanced despite committing five turnovers, including four in the first half.
Gilmer's three giveaways were costly.
Buckeyes senior quarterback Zac Spears, who threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns, had two of his passes intercepted and returned for touchdowns -- a 27-yarder from Travis Tolbert that tied the game at 21-21 in the second quarter, and a backbreaking 38-yard pick-six by Shane Gerths that gave the Bobcats a 49-38 lead with 1:19 remaining.
Celina converted Gilmer's other turnover, a Demarco Boyd fumble near midfield, into a 42-31 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Despite outgaining Celina, 514-375, and finishing plus-two in the turnover margin, Gilmer fell short of back-to-back title-game appearances.
Bobcats junior quarterback Conner Pingleton threw three interceptions, but passed for two touchdowns and rushed for a team-best 153 yards and two more scores. Senior running back Jarren Alexander added 138 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
"We knew (Pingleton) was a run-throw threat, which he was," Turner said. "He did both and did them well. (Alexander), same thing; just tough, gritty, got tough yards and could pop it out of there every once in a while. None of this surprised us, we were expecting this kind of a game."
Boyd, who will join his older brother Kris Boyd and former high school coach Jeff Traylor by enrolling at Texas in January, capped a stellar prep career with a five-touchdown performance vs. Celina.
Last season's championship game Defensive MVP ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns, and caught four passes for 61 yards and two additional scores.
"A great leader inside of a great player," Turner said of Boyd. "You don't always get that combination, but you've got it in him. He's led our team, and he's just a tremendous competitor. You're always going to miss that guy, but we're excited about what he's got in his future, and we're excited about the legacy he left here."
Following Gerths' interception return, Gilmer quickly moved downfield and scored on Spears' 21-yard touchdown pass to Boyd with 30 seconds remaining. But Celina recovered the ensuing onside kick, and lined up into victory formation.
"My kids fought their tails off and we played 48 minutes like we always say we're going to," Turner said. "We'll walk off and carry our heads high, and know that we did everything we could. We shot all the bullets."
With Celina leading 35-31 to begin the fourth quarter, Gilmer faced a fourth-and-2 at its own 46. Boyd got the carry, and pushed forward for 4 yards, but was stripped, allowing Gerths to fall on the loose ball.
A little more than four minutes later, Pingleton's 1-yard sneak gave the Bobcats their biggest lead of the night, 42-31, with 6:33 to play.
Gilmer drove 70 yards in 11 plays, and drew closer on Spears' 10-yard touchdown pass to LaMarcus Morton. The two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, leaving the Buckeyes trailing, 42-37, with just less than three minutes remaining.
Celina did not pick up a first down, and Gilmer took over at its own 22 following a Buckeyes personal-foul penalty after the kick. The Buckeyes got to the 36, but on first down, Gerths stepped in front of a Spears pass and raced the other way for the game-changing pick-six.
Boyd scored on his first two touches of the game to help Gilmer to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. He spun out of a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-2, and rumbled 50 yards to the end zone for the game's first score. After a Celina three-and-out and 19-yard punt, Boyd hauled in a 39-yard touchdown reception.
Celina answered with a big play of its own on the next series as Pingleton called his own number and raced 60 yards to the end zone, trimming Gilmer's lead to 14-7 with 3:28 remaining in the opening quarter.
But Gilmer followed with a 16-play, 64-yard drive that was capped by Boyd's 1-yard touchdown run, which pushed the Buckeyes' lead back to two scores, 21-7, with 10:33 until halftime.
An 11-yard Gilmer punt to end its next possession set Celina up at the Buckeyes' 29, and after a Buckeyes offsides penalty on fourth-and-inches, Pingleton connected with Braydon Watson for a 14-yard touchdown.
Two Gilmer series later, Spears' second-down pass was picked off by Tolbert and returned 27 yards for the game-tying touchdown with 3:12 to play in the half.
Pingleton's third first-half interception gave Gilmer possession at the Celina 38 with a little more than a minute before intermission, and Juan Esquivel's 24-yard field goal gave the Buckeyes a 24-21 halftime lead.
Gilmer couldn't get anything going on its first two third-quarter possessions, and Celina grabbed its first lead of the game, 28-24, on an Alexander 64-yard touchdown run with 4:28 to play in the period.
The Buckeyes regained the lead on the ensuing series, getting a 46-yard completion from Spears to Zod Heath to set up Boyd's 7-yard touchdown run, which put Gilmer in front, 31-28. Heath finished the game with nine receptions for 145 yards.
Pingleton's 34-yard run jumpstarted Celina's next drive, and his 7-yard touchdown pass to Luke Reeder gave the Bobcats a 35-31 lead with five seconds to play in the third quarter.
[Stats courtesy, DallasNews.com]
Celina 49, Gilmer 44
Class 4A Division II Semifinal
At Mesquite Memorial Stadium
Celina 7 14 14 14 -- 49
Gilmer 14 10 7 13 -- 44
GIL--Demarco Boyd 50 run (Juan Esquivel kick), 6:58.
GIL--Boyd 39 pass from Zac Spears (Esquivel kick), 5:14.
CEL--Conner Pingleton 60 run (Eduardo Paulino kick), 3:28.
GIL--Boyd 1 run (Esquivel kick), 10:33.
CEL--Braydon Watson 14 pass from Pingleton (Paulino kick), 6:59.
CEL--Travis Tolbert 27 interception return (Paulino kick), 3:12.
GIL--FG Esquivel 24, :04.
CEL--Jarren Alexander 64 run (Paulino kick), 4:28.
GIL--Boyd 7 run (Esquivel kick), 2:20.
CEL--Luke Reeder 7 pass from Pingleton (Paulino kick), :05.
CEL--Pingleton 1 run (Paulino kick), 6:33.
GIL--LaMarcus Morton 10 pass from Spears (pass failed), 2:57.
CEL--Shane Gerths 38 interception return (Paulino kick), 1:19.
GIL--Boyd 21 pass from Spears (Esquivel kick), :30.
First Downs 15 28
Total Yards 375 514
Rushes-Yards 43-296 42-160
Passing Yards 79 354
Comp.-Att.-Int. 9-14-3 28-48-2
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 5-51 8-76
RUSHING--Celina, Conner Pingleton 20-153, Jarren Alexander 20-138, John Franklin 2-4, Shane Gerths 1-1. Gilmer, Demarco Boyd 17-106, Kelton Collier 10-33, Cambron Granville 9-20, Devin Smith 3-4, Zac Spears 3-(-3).
PASSING--Celina, Pingleton 9-14-3--79. Gilmer, Spears 28-48-2--354.
RECEIVING--Celina, Luke Reeder 7-55, Braydon Watson 1-14, Trace Young 1-10. Gilmer, Zod Heath 9-145, Boyd 4-61, Granville 3-31, Red Jones 3-23, Dimitri Fort 2-35, Smith 2-23, Morton 2-14, Desmond Jones 1-8, Collier 1-7, Ryen Lawhorn 1-7.