Turnovers + All-Star Performance Help Sweetwater Tame Gilmer In State Semifinals
WACO -- Not many predicted Friday's Class 4A Division II state semifinal game correctly. Not from East Texas nor those in the know from West Texas.
Sweetwater surprised pundits and Gilmer with its more-than-fast-enough offense and perhaps an even better defense to spoil the Buckeyes' dream of reaching the state championship game for a second time in three seasons, 48-35, at Baylor's McLane Stadium.
It will be the Mustangs moving on to face West Orange-Stark in next week's title game.
"We just ran out of time," Buckeyes coach Matt Turner said. "They played great. Coach (Shane) Mobley and that crew, man, they did a great job. Their kids played well. But our kids played it right to the very end. They just made a few more plays tonight, and we ran out of time."
Sweetwater (13-1) had an offense that utilized the entire field. Its wideouts were seemingly lined up against the respective sidelines, which forced Gilmer (13-2) to cover every inch of space.
That helped junior quarterback Chris Thompson complete 25 of 33 passes for 306 yards with two touchdowns to no interceptions. With the open space the team's formations created, the signal-caller also ran the ball a team-high 31 times for 147 yards and four ground scores.
Defensive issues would have been OK if the Buckeyes matched Thompson and company point-for-point. Instead, Sweetwater's opportunistic defense upped their interceptions total from 19 to 23 picks in 14 games played.
Even then, the Buckeyes could have at least started to turn the tide with special teams. They kicked four onside kicks, beginning with one late in the first half down by six points, but only managed to recover one and didn't score on the extra possession.
It was a total team loss for Gilmer. A Gilmer program now with just three losses since winning the 2014 state championship game.
Yet there was a brief glimmer of hope for the Buckeyes with 11 minutes remaining in the meeting.
Quarterback Aaron "Poppy" Brown ran in a second-effort, 3-yard touchdown to make the score 42-35 and safety Kollin Hurt nearly came down with an interception the next play from scrimmage after an unsuccessful onside attempt. Hurt had the ball within reach, but he collided with intended receiver Kobe Clark on his way down and the ball squirted loose.
Sweetwater drove 61 yards through the next seven plays for the sealer with 8:08 left in the game. Then it came up with its third interception and began working the clock.
Gilmer eventually stopped the turnover aided drive that burned all three of its timeouts and three minutes off the clock. It drove to Sweetwater's 39-yard line before giving up interception No. 4.
Thompson was able to kneel out the remaining time.
Red Jones had a strong night despite the outcome. He caught 10 passes for 167 yards in the final game of his junior campaign, including a 46-yard diving catch to set up the Buckeyes' first touchdown and a 14-7 score with exactly one minute remaining in the first quarter.
Gilmer never led, which could have made a huge difference. Sweetwater always goes for two-point conversions after touchdowns because of a perceived weakness in the kicking facet.
Interception No. 1 came on the first play of the Buckeyes' second drive and followed empty first possessions from both teams. Cornerback Kiante McCoy housed it from 26 yards out and Mason Maxwell caught a two-pointer.
The Buckeyes followed that blow by turning the ball over on downs for a second time in the game and gave up a 15-play, 98-yard scoring drive for a 14-0 deficit.
Brown answered Sweetwater's second score with a 6-yard run after Jones' biggest catch of the night. From there, Thompson finished three of four drives with touchdowns for a rather commanding 36-21 lead at the break.
LaMarcus Morton caught a 62-yard touchdown and Brown scored on an 8-yard draw in the intermediate time.
Gilmer got its third stop of the game at the start of the second half, nearly immediately suffered interception No. 2 and went down 42-21.
"I knew the opportunities would present themselves," Turner said. "We had a few, but you've got to give them credit. They made the plays so that we couldn't."
After the championship game win in 2014 -- with what turned out to be three major college prospects in Kris Boyd, Blake Lynch and McLane Carter graduating off the roster -- it was assumed the team would drop back considerably.
Gilmer reached the state semifinals in 2015.
This team lost a fourth major college prospect to graduation, Demarco Boyd. Still made the state semifinals.
Next year's squad loses at least two NCAA Division I college prospects. Morton is a longtime Oklahoma State commitment and Hurt is pledged to Louisiana Tech.
Maybe this is finally the end of Gilmer's truly golden era as state power player.
Then again, this post-playoff thought process has existed for some time.
Brown will return to the roster for his senior season. He owns the school's record for most passing yards in a season.
Jones will be back as will fellow receiver Qua Heath, who caught a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
There's a lot to like about next year's Gilmer team even before taking the in-depth August look.
"Losing hurts," Turner said. "When you invest like these guys invest, it's painful. I mean, it is. It's not fun because nothing about what we do -- We're trying to win every day, every play, every way we do things. You don't always win, and we understand that. But we're wired as competitors."
Sweetwater 48, No. 7 Gilmer 35
Class 4A Division II
State Semifinal Playoff Game
At Baylor's McLane Stadium, Waco
Sweetwater 14 22 6 6 -- 48
Gilmer 7 14 7 7 -- 35
SWE--Kiante McCoy 26 interception return (Mason Maxwell pass from Thompson), 8:45
SWE--Thompson 1 run (pass failed), 1:14
GIL--Aaron "Poppy" Brown 6 run (Adan Ibarra kick), 1:00
SWE--Thompson 6 run (run failed), 7:39
GIL--LaMarcus Morton 62 pass from Brown (Ibarra kick), 7:25
SWE--Thompson 10 run (Jordan McGee pass from Thompson), 2:28
GIL--Brown 8 run (Ibarra kick), 1:43
SWE--McGee 5 pass from Thompson (Luke James pass from Thompson), :16
SWE--Thompson 6 run (pass failed), 6:15
GIL--Qua Heath 34 pass from Brown (Ibarra kick), 4:15
GIL--Brown 3 run (Ibarra kick), 11:01
SWE--James 6 pass from Thompson (pass failed), 8:08
First Downs 26 16
Total Yards 484 402
Rushes-Yards 47-178 14-53
Passing Yards 306 349
Comp.-Att.-Int. 25-33-0 25-43-4
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 10-51 6-55
RUSHING--Sweetwater, Chris Thompson 31-147, Jacoby Hunt 13-23, Luke James 2-9, Lowell Williams 1-(-1). Gilmer, Kelton Collier 8-30, Aaron "Poppy" Brown 5-23, Morton 1-0.
PASSING--Celina, Thompson 25-33-0--306. Gilmer, Brown 25-43-4--349.
RECEIVING--Sweetwater, Kobe Clark 8-123, Jordan McGee 10-109, James 6-59, Hunt 1-14. Gilmer, Red Jones 10-169, LaMarcus Morton 4-76, Qua Heath 3-60, Desmond Jones 4-22, Braydon Bates 1-13, Collier 2-7, Kameryn Cuevas 1-2.