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Gilmer survives Fannin, 29–26

Bobcat senior Thaddeus Bowers (5) celebrates his second receiving touchdown to give GHS its first lead of the game in the third quarter. He is joined by teammates from left, Griffin Cagle and Drake Crump. (Photo by Robbie Bills)
Five and counting

Behind 22-unanswered points, Bobcats get past Rebels, 29-26

by Robbie Bills

“Dixie” rang clear as dozens of Confederate flags rippled in the wind.     

The Fannin County Rebels were poised to defeat the Gilmer Bobcats for the first time on the gridiron since 2010. But Fannin’s 19-7 lead to begin the second half quickly dissipated as the Bobcats clawed back into the game by scoring 22 unanswered points before holding on for a 29-26 victory.

Following the game, GHS coach Zach Grage was pleased with the Bobcats’ grit, but noted their need for improvement.

“True character is going to show when you’re down,” he said. “People talk about fair-weather fans, fair-weather players. It’s easy when you’re winning. When we were down 13 to nothing and just got hit in the mouth, and were non existent on offense and can’t stop anybody on defense ... we challenged them at the half. We said ‘Look, with our conditioning and what you guys have been taught, just trust the system.’ We didn’t have a freak-out session. The resilience was there, but execution is still a ways off.”

He added, “There always has to be fear in the back of your head that you’re going to lose. I don’t think they (the players) experienced that fear truly until we were down 13-0 and they said, ‘Hey, we might lose to Fannin.’ It was four wins for the seniors. They know they’ve had success (against Fannin). Coach Jim Pavao does a great job and they (Fannin) came ready to play.”

Fannin built its early lead through the air. On the Rebels’ second possession, quarterback Brad Davis completed a screen pass to Cooper Earls, who picked up two blocks and raced untouched for a 51-yard score. Earls was Davis’ main target all night and caught 11 passes for 126 yards.

Following GHS’ second three-and-out of the game, a bobbled snap by Rodrigo Casas resulted in a rushed punt that settled on Gilmer’s 32-yard line. It took just two more passes with the second being a 22-yarder to Christian Resendiz for a 13-0 lead with 5:41 left in the opening quarter.

Gilmer went three-and-out again before the Rebels started to put the ball on the turf. On the same possession, consecutive fumbles were followed by a near interception that safety Kell Kiker could not corral. Fannin had trouble with ball security all night. They fumbled six times, which included five in the first quarter. However, GHS only recovered one when Levi Seabolt fell on a loose ball at the 8:14 mark of the second quarter.

It was the spark the Cats needed after only gaining two first downs through five possessions. GHS began at the Rebels’  39-yard line and Russell Cochran found some running room and carried three straight times for 17 total yards. Gilmer and Fannin traded 15-yard penalties and on fourth down and three from the 20, Tyler Buntin hit Thaddeus Bowers in stride in the end zone. Alix Lopez added the point after.

Fannin wasted little time in bumping its lead to 12. The Rebels drove 75 yards on nine plays blending the pass and run. The game’s fourth touchdown was marked by another fourth down conversion as Rebel Jack Roper reached paydirt after a 17-yard scamper around the right end.

Gilmer was able to progress from its 26 to Fannin’s 38 before Buntin’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete and Fannin kneeled to end the half.

The third quarter saw the momentum swing in the Bobcats’ favor and it began with a trick play, which ignited the purple and white supporters. On first and 10 from their 34, Bowers stepped in to take the snap at quarterback as Buntin split out wide. Griffin Cagle came in motion and took the handoff from Bowers then tossed the ball to Buntin as he turned the corner. Buntin passed to a wide open Drake Crump for a 45-yard gain.

While the drive stalled on the four-yard line, it was what the Cats needed. Fannin went three-and-out before GHS’ scoring march covered 76 yards on nine plays. Cochran did most of the work as the line started to open holes and he gained 57 yards on five attempts. His final carry covered 31 yards through the heart of the Rebels’ defense. The extra point cut Fannin’s lead to 19-14 with 4:29 left in the third.

GHS got the ball right back after safety Drew Dyer snagged a tipped pass and returned it 13 yards to the Rebels’ 20. On Gilmer’s ensuing offensive play, Buntin once again found Bowers, who ran a stop-and-go route. Buntin’s pump fake gave Bowers more than enough room to run under the ball and give GHS a 22-19 advantage.

The teams swapped punts and when Fannin took the field with less than 30 seconds in the quarter, cornerback Chandler Sutton intercepted an underthrown pass to Earls. GHS took over at Fannin’s 24 and Cochran broke a run to the one. He punched it in for the score two plays later.

Gilmer held a 29-19 lead with 11:29 to play. Possessions by both teams saw more of the clock melt away. Gilmer’s run defense had its first hiccup of the second half when Tyler Collis ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run right up the middle. The extra point narrowed the Cats’ lead to three with 7:17 to play.

Neither team would reach the end zone again. A Cochran fumble with 4:24 left on the clock gave Fannin some life at its 33. However, after picking up two first downs, a fourth down pass from GHS’ 19 fell in and out of the arms of Earls.

Gilmer stuck to the ground and forced the Rebels to spend their remaining timeouts. They received  a final chance with 27 seconds to play, but on third down, a sack by Lucas Bramlett sealed Gilmer’s win as time expired.

“We didn’t stomp on their throat when we had the chance,” Grage said. “All those balls not bouncing our way (in the first half) ... there were so many chances for turnovers. It was just frustrating (not to be able to capitalize).”

GHS outgained Fannin 406 to 379. The Cats made 10 stops for losses and the Rebels rushed for 142 yards on 26 carries. Linebackers Noble Zuschlag and Bramlett both made 11 total tackles, which included five combined for losses.  

Cochran led GHS with 206 rushing yards on 34 attempts. Buntin completed 11-of-21 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Bowers had eight catches for 116 yards.

Grage believed the benefits of playing very few two-way players began to pay dividends in the second half.

“I think it showed itself coming out of halftime,” he said. “I think momentum helped us out, too. My staff did a really good job. Coach (Caleb) Bagley and (Sean) Thom did a really good job with the offense and defense. We met as a staff before we went in the lockerroom at halftime. I said ‘I’m not going to get on them. I’m not going to yell at them or fuss at them. I’m just going to remind them that this is what we do, now let’s go out and get it done.’”

The win marked GHS’ fifth in a row over Fannin and increased its lead in the series to 25-13-2.

In the second quarter, GHS sophomore Greg Engler was ejected for “throwing and connecting with a punch,” according to game officials. The ejection carries a one-game suspension and he will be out this week.

The Bobcats will host Dawson County (0-1) Friday at 7:30 p.m.  and the Gilmer Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony will begin at 6:45 p.m. Former coaches Mark Pettit and John Pettit will be on hand prior to kickoff for the dedication of newly named Pettit Field at Huff-Mosley Memorial Stadium.

Ninth-grade shutout

The GHS ninth-grade team faced off against Pickens last Thursday in Jasper. The Bobcats recovered a Dragon fumble on the opening kickoff before the game turned sour. The Cats were down 31-0 at the half and a running clock was instituted in the fourth as GHS lost, 49-0.
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