GILMER — To the list of life's certainties — a date with the undertaker and the annual tithe to the Internal Revenue Service — may now be added a third element: That the Gilmer Buckeyes will procure a perennial place in Playoff Paradise.
Coach Jeff Traylor's charges had already secured their 12th straight playoff appearance in his 13-year reign before their 20-14 dramatic defeat of the previously unvanquished Kilgore Bulldogs Friday night — a dandy dustup before an overflow crowd at Buckeye Stadium that approximated the populace of China in size.
But by blunting the Bulldogs' 11th-hour comeback in the contest's final minute, Gilmer also once again won its district blue ribbon for the 11th time in those 12 years — thus ascending this time to the mountaintop of the so-called "District of Doom," 16-3A, to prevent Kilgore from planting the flag there.
The Buckeyes have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that they are indeed the leading lights of their loop, although three of their district duels were close or fairly so. They had to hurdle a 13-0 deficit to beat arch-rival Gladewater 21-13 weeks ago, and soon thereafter darted ahead of Henderson 21-3 only to win by a matchstick, 28-26.
Friday night proved another close call. But Traylor's troops topped every single foe in their dreaded district. All six of them. They earned the grand prize.
And Kilgore had to learn what other teams have — don't get into a game against the Buckeyes where the score is closer than Siamese twins. Gilmer will inevitably devise a way to nose you out in a photo finish. If you're gonna beat Traylor and his army, you will probably have to do so by a landslide, as was the case when Plano Prestonwood Academy poleaxed the Buckeyes, 42-12, for Gilmer's only downfall of the season.
Methinks the main obstacle to Kilgore overtaking the Buckeyes Friday night was that Gilmer simply seemed to have superior speed. Not to mention the home field advantage, which is overwhelming for Traylor and Associates on their own playground. The Buckeyes have lost only two games there in the past nine seasons, both in 2010.
But by 6 p.m., 90 minutes before the scheduled kickoff, Kilgore fans had gathered in a human chain outside the stadium gates — and it was so long that it resembled a Depression-era line for a soup kitchen. So, having packed in their own fans to capacity, the Bulldogs can't entirely excuse their shortfall on the fact that they had to be in a Road Show instead of at home, sweet home.
Instead, they can think about how the kicking game kicked them. Gilmer's Pablin Olivares had field goals of 22 and 29 yards which basically proved the winning margin (he also notched two PATs). Gilmer also got off a stupefying 72-yard punt at one point — which was returned far fewer yards than that.
And Kilgore's offense also bloomed too late. Other than Kevrin Justice's 40-yard flight to the end zone, which helped put Kilgore ahead for the only time all night by 7-3 in the second quarter, the Bulldogs could not score again until the third quarter was nearly over.
And by that time, Gilmer had totted up a 20-7 lead on the strength of Tanner Barr's 20-yard scoring sling to Patrick Finch, and Jamel Jackson's 5-yard hop.
Nonetheless, the ‘Dogs were dogged to nearly the very end. They mounted an 11-play offensive in the waning minutes, reaching the Gilmer 3 before being knocked back to the 5. On fourth-and-goal, quarterback Cooper Coldiron put up a pass into a crowd in the end zone and it fell incomplete with but 41.6 seconds left.
Just more proof that if you're playing Gilmer close, you better remember that close only counts in horseshoes.