Gilmer Buckeyes eyeing yet another trip to AT&T Stadium

Gilmer's quarterback Aaron Brown looks for a pass in the first half of their game against Jasper Friday night Nov. 25, 2016 at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Few teams in the state can match the success of the Gilmer Buckeyes over the last dozen or so years.

Since 2003, only once have the orange and black failed to win 10 games, only once have they lost more than two.

Even when coach Jeff Traylor, the architect of three state championships in that span, left to become an assistant for the Texas Longhorns, Gilmer still knew how to win.

Second-year coach Matt Turner made sure of that.

"We know if you do certain things pretty well and frequently when you play that you give yourself a chance," Turner said. "There are certain things we believe in that we dogmatically try to stick to because we know those are the things that put you in position to be successful."

The Buckeyes (13-1) are back in the state semifinals for the seventh time in 12 years. They face Sweetwater (12-1) in a Class 4A Division II semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday from Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco.

Gilmer is on a 10-game winning streak since falling 55-37 to Carthage on Sept. 17. After that loss, Turner said the team focused on what could be fixed and recognized they did things well against the Bulldogs, one of four teams left in 4A Division I.

Last year the Buckeyes didn't taste defeat until the final day of their season, losing 49-44 to Celina in the state semifinals.

Gilmer avenged that loss with a 43-17 win over the Bobcats last week.

What makes the Buckeyes special this year is that every player keeps improving week after week, Turner said.

"Collectively we've all made an effort to get better and we have gotten better," Turner said. "No one's stayed the same or gotten worse. To me, when each player does that, the cumulative effect of that is pretty significant.

"You're a lot better if everybody gets a little better."

Offensively the Buckeyes have been fairly consistent, save a small lull at the start of district play when they scored 31 and 35 in consecutive games.

Gilmer averages 49.2 points and 534.2 yards per game.

Leading the offense is junior quarterback Aaron Brown, who has completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,659 yards, 46 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Receiver LaMarcus Morton, an Oklahoma State commit, has caught 63 passes for 1,291 yards and 14 TDs, averaging 20.5 yards per catch. Red Jones (56-837, nine TDs) and Qua Heath (51-697, eight TDs) are also top options for Brown.

Kelton Collier gives the Buckeyes their best running option, having gone for 866 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 8.7 yards per carry.

As a team, Gilmer averages 8 yards per play.

"I feel like we've gotten better at every position throughout the course of the year and that's not easy to do," Turner said of the offense. "To me that's really been the key - we've never been satisfied with where we're at."

Defensively the Buckeyes started slowly, allowing 40.4 points in the first five games of the year. Since then, the Gilmer D is allowing 20 points per game.

In the playoffs, opponents have averaged 271 yards against the Buckeyes compared to 335.4 during the regular season.

"We've played some really good defense in this run in the playoffs against some really good teams," Turner said.

Senior free safety Kollin Hurt leads the Buckeyes with 136 tackles while senior linebacker Jeremy Kelly (128) and senior linebacker Myles Chumley (107) have also gone over the century mark.

Hurt, a Louisiana Tech commit, has a team-high three interceptions and nine pass breakups. Kelly leads the team with four fumble recoveries.

The Buckeyes have amassed 126 tackles for loss with a front line led by tackle Collier (15 TFL) and sophomore tackle Wilson Nugent (13 TFL).

"I think we're pretty athletic; we've got some guys who are hard to block," Turner said. "Our defensive line has done a tremendous job."

While Gilmer has created a respectable 24 turnovers this season, Friday's opponent Sweetwater has made taking the ball away a way of life, with the Mustangs' 32 forced turnovers (19 INTs, 13 fumbles) having gotten Turner's attention.

"That's the name of the game on defense is take the ball away and they've shown they're pretty good about it," Turner said.

Senior Luke James leads Sweetwater with four interceptions while three different players have three fumble recoveries each.

On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs are about as balanced as it gets, averaging 247.2 yards on the ground and 232.9 through the air.

Junior quarterback Chris Thompson has thrown for 2,750 yards and run for 973, accounting for 52 touchdowns.

Senior Jacoby Hunt leads the ground game with 1,115 yards while Kobe Clark leads the receivers with 1,104 yards.

"The more things you can be good at the harder it is on the defense," Turner said.

Gilmer will be playing for the first time at McLane Stadium, which opened in 2014.

A win against Sweetwater means the Buckeyes will play AT&T Stadium for the third time in five seasons against either West Orange-Stark or Navarro.

"We're excited - that's been a goal we've had from way back in the offseason," Turner said. "Our seniors have done a great job of leading us to this point. We're excited about trying to move beyond this point if we can."

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