The defending state champion and unconquered Gilmer Buckeyes' offense went into overdrive early and late to finally cold-cock the Center Roughriders, 36-21, in a sometimes-rainy Class 4A Division II regional semifinal Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium Friday night.
Gilmer stormed ahead 14-0 in the fray's first 8:30 and, after seeing that margin sawed to 14-7 at twirling time, heightened its advantage to 29-7with 2:15 left in the third quarter before having to short-circuit a frenzied Center comeback.
The Roughriders (10-3) pared the deficit to 29-21 with 6:39 remaining before the Buckeyes finally padlocked their 29th-straight triumph with runner Demarco Boyd's 2-yard TD with only 1:06 left.
The synopsis of this struggle was basically that Gilmer's speedier-than-a-scalded jackrabbit offense, paced by two TDs apiece from rushers Boyd and Cambron Granville, proved more consistent than Center's attack, led by quarterback Kyle Parks' two TD throws.
After kicking off to open the contest and forcing Center to punt, the Buckeyes wheeled into Beulah Land on their opening offensive, tripping 48 yards in nine plays and surmounting a 5-yard penalty to tally on Granville's 11-yard run, in which he bulled into a defender near the goal line.
Juan Esquivel airlifted the first of four successful PATs with 8:36 left in the first.
Forcing Center to punt again on the Roughriders' next possession, Gilmer unleashed its second stampede to TD territory, whistling 40 yards in only four plays to tally on quarterback Zac Spears' 6-yard heave to Kelton Collier with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
But just when it appeared the Buckeyes might turn a contest that was supposed to be a close shave into a landslide, the Roughriders managed to scurry back into the ring.
On its next possession after Gilmer's second TD, Center rolled to the Gilmer 5, only to end up ceding the ball on downs at the Buckeye 20 when Gilmer's defense stemmed the offensive.
But the Buckeyes were quickly forced to punt, opening the bridge for Center's initial TD trek of 50 yards in nine plays. Runner DaCorey McGee breezed into the end zone standing up from three yards out, and Arnol Escobedo hammered the first of his three successful PATs with 7:44 left to halftime.
Neither squad could muster another serious sniff of the other's goal line until the second half, when Gilmer again threatened to run away.
On their second possession after the bands blared, the Buckeyes plodded 71 yards in 12 plays on a possession that featured two Center penalties and one against Gilmer. Boyd appeared halted before intruding into the end zone from three yards out with 5:17 left in the third and the PAT made it 21-7.
After another Roughrider punt, the Buckeyes bounded 42 yards in seven plays for their next scoring salvo, which came on Granville's 2-yard hop with 2:15 left in the third. When Boyd tallied two points on the "swinging gate," making it 29-7, it again appeared a Gilmer rout was imminent.
But that's when Center again sniffed the smelling salts. Sparked by a sparkling kickoff return, the Roughriders rode 45 yards in eight plays, abetted by a Gilmer penalty, to tally on Parks' 6-yard scoring sling to Marco Gutierrez, the receiver's lone catch all night with 11:50 left in the game.
Gilmer soon punted, launching Center's last scoring surge as the ‘Riders rumbled 66 yards in 12 plays to strike oil on Parks' 8-yard heave to Joe Carraway, also that receiver's sole catch all night.
And when the Buckeyes got off only a 6-yard punt, on which Center made a fair catch at the Gilmer 40, the air appeared clear for perhaps a game-tying score. But with 3:38 to go, the Roughriders ran out of downs at the 39.
And that set up the pins in the alley to roll a strike on Boyd's late TD. Gilmer screamed 61 yards in only five plays, including a 40-yard burst by Granville to the Center 9, for the last touchdown.
The Buckeyes battle Atlanta next week in the Class 4A Division II quarterfinals.