Gladewater Hands Center First District Loss + Captures Share of District Title
GLADEWATER -- The win-loss column defines the Gladewater Bears as a .500 football team entering next week's playoff opener. But they proved during Friday night's regular-season finale that their record is just a number.
Gladewater controlled the action with its patented ball-control ground attack, and forced three second-half turnovers in a 38-36 win over Center, which denied the Roughriders a perfect district campaign and forced a three-way tie atop the 6-4A Division II standings.
The Bears (5-5, 4-1) will enter the postseason as the district's No 2 seed, and will meet Canton (5-5) in the bi-district round at Hallsville's Bobcat Stadium. The date and kickoff time have yet to be determined.
Despite the loss, Center (8-2, 4-1) is the league's No. 1 seed. The Roughriders, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped, will meet Emory Rains (6-4) in the first round next week.
Gladewater led or was tied with Center for all but 3:35 of game clock, but never held an advantage of more than 10 points.
"We didn't have a clean game by any means, and Center didn't play their best game either," said Gladewater coach John Berry. "But I believe the two teams tonight competed as good as anybody. They brought it, and our kids responded."
Gladewater could have clinched the top seed from the district had it defeated Center by at least 13 points, and the Bears were in position to do so late in the fourth quarter.
The Bears were leading 38-28 with a little more than three minutes remaining, and advanced to midfield when Center linebacker Romario Brown scooped up a Gladewater fumble and returned it to the Bears' 11-yard line.
But two plays later, Center quarterback Kyle Parks fumbled at the 1 -- the last of three lost fumbles on the night for the Roughriders. Gladewater did its best to run out the remainder of the clock, but punted it back to Center with 1:08 to play.
Parks hit junior receiver Octavius Evans for 30 yards on first down, then called his own number and scored on a 2-yard run with 41 seconds remaining. Parks then connected with Jadus Johnson for a two-point conversion, but the 'Riders were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick.
"I felt like the kids at Gladewater played hard, and matched the intensity that the fine football team from Center brought up here," Berry said. "They're an aggressive, well-coached, talented team. And we had to have a very good effort."
The Bears attempted two passes all night, but their running game was plenty successful. Gladewater ran 54 times for 355 yards, and its two second-half scoring drives totaled 23 plays and covered a combined 167 yards.
Junior tailback Darnell McKnight led the charge with 157 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He also had a major impact on defense at linebacker, and on special teams. McKnight had a 64-yard kickoff return and blocked a punt that set up a field goal in the first half.
"That's what he's been doing for the last month," Berry said of McKnight. "He's a big kid and once he got conditioned when the weather kinda changed a little bit where he could play more on both sides of the ball, that's what we've been getting from Darnell. He's a fine running back, has a great instinct for finding seams. And he's big and he's fast. Then, he's a guy that can run to your best player and tackle him as well."
Gladewater thrived on the ground out of its traditional I-formation look despite starting fullback Justice Centers sitting out with an injury, and his replacement -- sophomore Isaiah Davis -- hobbled by a lower-leg ailment that limited his effectiveness in the second half.
Davis still managed 83 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, but only 21 yards came after halftime. Senior tailback Marcello Jackson finished with 80 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 17 attempts.
"Our fullback situation has been tough year-long," Berry said. "Justice Centers has missed several games, and we've had to learn how to play without a lot of really good players this year. This football team has had to weather a lot of adversity in terms of keeping players on the field."
Center had little trouble running the ball as well, finishing with 312 rushing yards as a team. Seniors DaCorey McGee and Sayoddrick Barnes each eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the night, and combined for four of the Riders' five touchdowns.
McGee led the way with 135 yards, scoring on runs of 1, 43, and 75 yards. Barnes added 112 yards and scored on an 8-yard run. Parks completed 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards, and ran 13 times for 54 yards, which included his fourth-quarter scoring run.
Gladewater marched down the field in seven plays on its opening possession, and Jackson capped the 70-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Center answered with a 12-play, 59-yard drive that ended with McGee's 1-yard scoring run. However, Raul Lara's PAT did not clear the crossbar, leaving the Bears ahead 7-6 with 3:17 remaining in the first quarter.
Gladewater unleashed McKnight on the ensuing drive. His 46-yard run on third-and-10 got the Bears into the red zone, and one play later, he bounced off a Center defender and scored on a 14-yard run to push the Bears' lead to 14-6 with less than a minute to play in the opening period.
Center responded almost immediately as McGee took the first play of the second quarter 43 yards to the end zone. Parks ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14.
Gladewater went three-and-out on its next series, and it looked as if Center would follow suit, but the Roughriders' punter mishandled the snap, and McKnight was there for the block. Isaiah Tiner recovered the loose ball at the Center 7-yard line.
"It's been critical what he's added to us on defense and on offense," Berry said of McKnight. "And when they kick him the football, it's the same thing. He's in on a punt block when (Center) got a bad snap. So, he's a pretty good football player."
But a delay of game penalty and then a sack on third down forced a 34-yard field goal by Fernando Serrano, which gave Gladewater a 17-14 lead with 5:25 remaining until halftime.
The 'Riders offense went to work after that, giving Center its only of the night. Barnes ripped off a 40-yard run on the first play of the series, and then scored from 8 yards out for a 21-17 lead with 3:36 showing on the second-quarter clock.
That left just enough time for Gladewater, which quickly moved 71 yards in seven plays, and scored on Davis' 3-yard run with one second remaining for a 24-21 halftime lead.
Center fumbled inside the Gladewater 10-yard line to end the 'Riders' first series of the second half. And the Bears made them pay by traveling 91 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a Jackson 36-yard run that pushed Gladewater's lead to 31-21 with a little more than three minutes to play in the third.
McGee jetted 75 yards on the second play of the ensuing series, cutting Center's deficit to 31-28, but once again, Gladewater had the answer. The Bears moved 76 yards in 12 plays, and took a 38-28 lead with 7:54 remaining on quarterback Blake Guthrie's 1-yard sneak on third down.
"I think we're better than a 5-5 football team, and I think you could see that tonight," Berry said. "We should be more productive than we are if we just have everybody on the field. You make up for some of that by being tough and scrapping."
Gladewater 38, Center 36
At Jack V. Murphy Bear-Stadium, Gladewater
Center 6 15 7 8 -- 36
Gladewater 14 10 7 7 -- 38
GLA--Marcello Jackson 2 run (Fernando Serrano kick), 8:33.
CEN--DaCorey McGee 1 run (kick failed), 3:17.
GLA--Darnell McKnight 14 run (Serrano kick), :54.
CEN--McGee 43 run (Kyle Parks run), 11:52.
GLA--FG Serrano 34, 5:25.
CEN--Sayoddrick Barnes 8 run (Raul Lara kick), 3:36.
GLA--Isaiah Davis 3 run (Serrano kick), :01.
GLA--Jackson 36 run (Serrano kick), 3:06.
CEN--McGee 75 run (Lara kick), 2:41.
GLA--Blake Guthrie 1 run (Serrano kick), 7:54.
CEN--Parks 2 run (Jadus Johnson pass from Parks), :41.
First Downs 15 17
Total Yards 424 379
Rushes-Yards 38-312 54-355
Passing Yards 112 24
Comp.-Att.-Int. 6-8-0 1-2-0
Punts-Avg. 0-0 1-27.0
Fumbles-Lost 5-3 5-1
Penalties-Yards 5-40 3-13
RUSHING--Center, DaCorey McGee 11-135, Sayoddrick Barnes 10-112, Kyle Parks 13-54, Octavius Evans 2-19, Jamonie Nash 1-1, Team 1-(-9). Gladewater, Darnell McKnight 13-157, Isaiah Davis 13-83, Marcello Jackson 17-80, Blake Guthrie 10-30, Clint Starling 1-5.
PASSING--Center, Parks 6-8-0--112. Gladewater, Guthrie 1-2-0--24.
RECEIVING--Center, Jaterious Evans 3-65, Octavius Evans 3-47. Gladewater, Fernando Serrano 1-24.