Cats Lose Lead Late on Senior Night

GHS Basketball, Gilmer High School, Team FYN Sports

Ellijay, GA — Two years ago the Gilmer Bobcats had 25 Sophomores listed on their roster. Friday night was Senior Night, only five of them remained. It was the final opportunity for Donnie Ledford, Andrew Gooch, Dylan Ellington, Luke Morgan, and Jace McClure to play in front of the home crowd at Huff-Mosley Stadium. They stuck it out. They’re four young men who have learned firsthand what it means to build character through adversity. When the others quit, or transferred away, they stayed. The game Friday night against Ridgeland was for them, as it should have been.

Bobcat Seniors Dylan Ellington, Andrew Gooch, Donnie Ledford, and Jace McClure serve as captains.

The Ridgeland Panthers came into the game with a region title in mind, winners in four of their last five games. Like most other teams on the schedule, it’s safe to assume they were caught off-guard by the Gilmer football team.

The game started with huge kickoff return across midfield by Sophomore Kobe Stonecipher. A holding penalty downfield brought the ball back fifteen from the spot of the foul. Gilmer took the great field position and had it down inside the Ridgeland 10 with three minutes barely off the clock. A 4th and 1 try from the Panthers 9 yard line failed. Turnover on downs.

The Gilmer Bobcats prepare for a 4th and 1 attempt early.

The Ridgeland offense came out aggressive, trying to get the ball down field to their standout skill players. But the Cats were well prepared. They were able to pressure Freshman QB Chase Watkins into throwing inaccurate balls (a trend that would last). The Panthers went a quick three and out.

After a long punt the Gilmer offense went back to work. A long Stonecipher run got the ball across the Ridgeland 35 yard line. On the very next play Sophomore QB Seth Darling found Junior WR Braden Jenkins for a 34 yard touchdown pass along the right sideline. Junior Kicker Adolfo Bautista’s PAT made it 7-0 Bobcats.

Kobe Stonecipher on the first scoring drive.

It took less than two minutes for the Panthers to respond. They started running the ball with Seniors Jordan Blackwell, Terrance Roberts, and his brother Torrance Roberts. It was Blackwell who took broke free to take it in for their first TD of the night. The PAT from Conner Middleton tied it up at 7 with 2:42 left in the first.

Gilmer got the ball back looking to add on. It started with another big Darling completion, this time to Stonecipher. The next play was disastrous. A reverse from Darling, to Stonecipher, back around to Gray McClure was wide open. But a fumble right after the second hand off ended up in the arms of the Ridgeland defense. But the Panthers could do nothing with it. A 45 yard touchdown run by Torrance Roberts was called back from holding. The drive ultimately ended in a turnover on downs.

Gilmer then put together one of their best drives of the season. With 4 minutes left on the clock they took it down inside the Ridgeland 5 yard line. Junior FB Ashton White punched it in from the 3 yard line with 1:03 left. Bautista’s PAT made it 14-7. It was the perfect combination of efficiency and clock management. Good teams know how to get point before halftime without leaving enough clock for a response. It’s even more important when facing an opponent, like Ridgeland, that can break big play at any time. Fortunately they didn’t with the time left. 14-7 Gilmer at the break.

Ashton White extends over the goal line for a score.

Ridgeland gambled on 4th down nearly every possession, it failed over and over again. The first drive of the second half was no different. The Gilmer defense once again bent, but did not break — getting a major stop to start the third.

The offense picked up right where it left off. The committee of Gilmer running backs worked it down field. Then, what seemed like it would be the lasting image of the game, the Cats went for it on 4th and medium from their own 35 yard line. Darling dropped back to pass, rolled to his left and then took off down the sideline. He could have driven an 18-wheeler through the gap that opened between the sideline and every other player on the field. It was a huge conversion, and a back breaker for the Ridgeland defense.

Darling runs free on a big 4th down.

A few minutes later Stonecipher took it in from six yards out to give the Bobcats a commanding 21-7 lead following Bautista’s PAT. It started to feel as if Gilmer was going to get the signature win we’ve all thought could be coming. Everything seemed to be falling their way. Even their turnovers turned into no points. The feeling on the sideline was confident.

Unfortunately, the Ridgeland offense decided the 3:30 mark in the third quarter was the time for them to wake up. More importantly, it was time for the Roberts brothers to wake up. Having lost Jordan Blackwell for the game, the running game became the Terrance and Torrence show. The Panthers abandoned their shotgun, throw it around strategy and settled into what seemed to me like the old Split Veer. Just like the famous “it’s like Novocain, just give it time” offense from Remember the Titans. It took less than a minute for them to get down the field and pull within seven points.

The Bobcats got it back looking for another marathon drive. They held it into the start of the 4th quarter but were eventually forced to punt. Ridgeland got it back and picked up where they left off. Roberts left, Roberts right, Roberts up the middle. Which one? Both of them. Terrance Roberts then found a lane into the end zone for the equalizer. The 14 point lead had evaporated in less than five minutes. The entire mood changed with the sudden momentum swing.

By this time, Gilmer QB Seth Darling was feeling discomfort in his throwing arm, leaving him unable to throw — it was later confirmed by Saunders but the extent of the injury was unknown. Everyone in the stadium knew the Cats needed to run the ball, and the clock to get into scoring range the way they did to close first half. This one dimensional approach was obviously made worse by the fact the Quarterback couldn’t throw the ball. It resulted in a three and out. Darling punted it away with just over 6 minutes on the clock.

It really did not matter where the drive started. The result felt inevitable. The 4th down gambles for Ridgeland began to pay off. On 4th and long from their own 30, Terrance Roberts broke through the Gilmer defense for the go-ahead score.

Terrance Roberts scores the go-ahead TD.

Gilmer still had a chance, down only 7 with 4:35 left. However, not being able to throw the ball spelled trouble. Stonecipher had a marginal gain on first down. Then, on second down, the Center/QB exchange was mishandled. The ball hit the ground. The Panthers had the ball and the game. They’d add a field goal in the waning seconds to ice it — 31-21. A disappointing end to a night that started with such promise.

Ridgeland recovers the fumble to seal their come from behind victory.

Coach Saunders was positive after the game. It was obvious that Ridgeland had the more experienced and talented side. “This game might have been lost 16 years ago when those kids were born over there at Ridgeland,” a nod to the talent disparity.

“But our kids were incredible tonight, we had a chance to win once again… Seth got hurt there at the start of the third quarter and made it rough for us,” he added. “This is probably the most athletic team that we’ve played all year and our kids battled, were extremely physical, and we did all we could.”

There are certainly signs this Gilmer team is continuing to progress. Most coaches will tell you the true measure of a team is their progression from week to week over the course of a season. Although their 3-6 record may not indicate it, this Bobcats squad has succeeded in getting better each week. It’s little things, like not being intimidated by the opponent across the line (something Gilmer checked off long ago). They responded to the adversity of an early turnover to take the lead in the first half. Then they executed their 4 minute offense to perfection to get points before halftime. To top it all off, the made adjustments, got a big stop to open the third quarter, then scored. That’s what good teams do.

It’s easy for us to start getting ahead of ourselves in the moment. It didn’t even occur to me until my drive home that the Cats haven’t really played with the lead in the 4th quarter against a big time opponent. It’s something that must be learned. As the Huff-Mosley crowd bid adieu to the five Seniors, the perspective became a little clearer. Playing with the lead against a region powerhouse is just one more thing on the list of measurables that are yet to be checked off. With one game left, this team is so much further down the list than anyone could have reasonably expected. Those five Seniors will be the first to attest to that.


The Gilmer Bobcats (3-6, 1-4) wrap up the 2019 season next week on the road against the LaFayette Ramblers (3-6, 1-4). LaFayette lost to Pickens 49-45 in their last game.




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