ALLEN — Gilmer head coach Matt Turner is quick to point to the little things like effort, execution, preparation and a next-play mentality.
All of those things game together on Friday night for the Buckeyes in the third round of the playoffs.
Behind a big night on the ground from Darrell Bush and a bend-but-not-break effort from the Black Flag defense, Gilmer knocked off previously-unbeaten Waco Connally, 35-20, in a Class 4A, Division II, Region II semifinal at Eagle Stadium.
With the win, Gilmer (10-3) advances to the regional final and will meet Pleasant Grove in a rematch of a District 6-4A, Division II clash earlier this season at 7 p.m. Friday at Longview's Lobo Stadium.
The Hawks moved to 12-1 on the season with a 49-28 win over previously-unbeaten Sunnyvale on Friday night to set up the regular-season rematch and a second-straight postseason meeting between the two teams.
Connally’s season concludes at 12-1.
It was a game of runs on a soggy night in Allen with Gilmer racing out to a 19-0 lead before Connally responded with a 20-0 run. Behind Bush and big plays from the Buckeye defense, Gilmer scored the final 16 points for the win.
“We said that it was going to be a 48-minute game,” Turner said. “They were going to make their plays, they’ve got great players and are well-coached. They were going to make their push and we just have to keep playing.
“Every play is important. Our guys believe that. I’m proud of our effort and leadership, everything that you do throughout the offseason, this is why you do it. Guys were making plays when it counts and were there for each other. They battled and competed for 48 minutes. That’s what we’re about.”
Bush ran for 173 yards with three touchdowns on 24 carries for the Buckeyes — amassing the bulk of the Gilmer offense that finished with 269 yards overall. The Buckeye offensive line, led by seniors Devon King and Blake Olivares, paved the way for 200 rushing yards.
Tennison finished 9-of-12 passing for 69 yards, highlighted by a 25-yard pass to Dylan Fluellen on 4th-and-11 on a drive that gave Gilmer the lead again, 26-20, early in the fourth quarter.
Fluellen had his hand on a big night from the Buckeye defense, taking a backwards pass 53 yards to the house in the second quarter.
The Gilmer defense held Connally to 257 yards of total offense, with 244 coming on the ground, over 100 yards below the Cadets’ season rushing average coming into Friday night.
In a total effort on the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Grant Couture led the charge along with Malik Williams, junior Brycen Jimmerson, sophomore Matthew Burton and junior Davion Smith.
Connally was led by quarterback Kavian Gaither and running back Jay’Veon Sunday, who finished with 113 and 114 yards, respectively. Sunday had two touchdowns and Gaither put Connally ahead, 20-19, with his lone score late in the third quarter.
The Buckeye defense, with heavy pressure, helped force two errant snaps on punt attempt from Connally, both of which went out of the back of the endzone for safeties. Gilmer sniffed out a fake punt for a turnover-on-downs and the lone punt the Cadets got off resulted in zero yards.
Gilmer went on a march to start before the drive stalled at the Connally 36 for its first of two punts in nine possessions.
The Buckeye defense rose up, forcing its first of three three-and-outs on the night before the punt snap sailed into the endzone for a safety and a 2-0 Buckeye lead.
Another solid drive for Gilmer fizzled in the redzone and Jose Hernandez made it a 5-0 Buckeye lead with a 26-yard field goal.
Connally then went three-and-out again on a fake punt. Gilmer then turned it over on downs itself at the Connally seven-yard line.
On Connally’s next drive, a pass to the flat went through the hands of the receiver and it was a live ball. Fluellen scooped it and went 53 yards to the house for a 12-0 Buckeye lead.
Bush registered the Buckeyes’ first touchdown offensively on a 3-yard run with 2:28 left in the first half.
Connally then woke up.
Gaither and Sunday had runs of 28 and 26 yards with Sunday getting Connally on the board on a 4-yard run for a 19-6 scoreboard at halftime.
The duo picked up right where they left off to start the third quarter with a seven-play, 67-yard march win Sunday’s second score.
After a Gilmer three-and-out, Sunday converted a fourth down and Gaither’s five-yard score with 1:46 left in the third put the Cadets up, 20-19.
The fourth quarter belonged the battle-tested Buckeyes.
Bush got eight on a 4th-and-3, Tennison and Fluellen connected for 25 on a 4th-and-11 before Bush put Gilmer back on top, 26-20, with a four-yard run. Gilmer went 77 yards on 11 plays for the go-ahead score.
Smith had a tackle and Couture stuffed another run for a Connally punt attempt which, again, went through the back of the endzone for a safety.
Two plays later, Bush broke a tackle and rumbled for a 56-yard score.
Burton and Jimmerson had sacks on Connally’s final drive that resulted in a turnover-on-downs to send Gilmer into victory formation and on to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.