Hawks bring down the giant

Pleasant Grove fans celebrate after a late touchdown by Carson Cox.
Pleasant Grove fans celebrate after a late touchdown by Carson Cox.
Braxton Watkins helps lead the team onto the field for the second half.

PG nips state-ranked Gilmer, 41-38, moves to 6-0

By Bill Owney



Will be updated


GILMER – One for the ages.

David finally took down Goliath.

In a game destined to live always in the hearts of all present – it sure seemed more came from Pleasant Grove – PG held off Gilmer, 41-38, to hand the Buckeyes their first home district loss since 2001.

A furious slugfest with far more punching flurries than Mayweather v. McGregor turned when the Hawks and fate landed the final roundhouses: a 35-yard TD bullet from QB Ben Harmon to wideout Carson Cox with 36.9 seconds to play, and a Gilmer field goal try that fluttered short of the crossbar with two ticks left.

“I could not be prouder of our coaching staff, our players, and our community,” said PG head coach Josh Gibson. “Our players fought through the ups and downs of a great football game. They showed great resilience and they made big plays when they had to. That’s what you have to do in a game like this, make big plays.”

Chauncy Martin picks up some of his game-high 220 yards

The throw

Both teams can fill highlight reels with this one, but of all the monster plays, the one etched in the memories of fans from both sides will be Harmon to Cox.

Earlier in the game, after a play when Harmon was knocked down attempting to pass, he and quarterbacks coach Riley Fincher noticed that Gilmer’s DBs were cheating up, trying to pinch off the Hawks’ potent run attack. That left no one to cover Cooper deep over the middle.

They put that in their back pocket.

Momentum and enthusiasm, dread and fear flowed from one side of the stadium to the other on a steamy and dark Friday the 13th.  The gloom was ready to dock on the Pleasant Grove side of Jeff Traylor Field late in the fourth quarter. PG found itself down, 38-24, after Gilmer’s stellar senior quarterback Poppy Brown cobbled together a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive with 3:34 left.

PG fought back. The Hawks got a 35-yard kickoff return from Bruce Garrett to set up shop at the Buckeye 41. They clawed out a couple of first downs on some tough inside running by T.J. Cole, who wound up rushing for 125 yards on 20 carries.

Still, the drive was moving slowly and it looked like the Buckeyes might soon nail the coffin shut when the Hawks faced a third-and-eight at their own 49 with 43.2 seconds showing. Somehow, Chauncey Martin, who led all rusher with 221 yards, found a crease in the left side of the Buckeye defense, spun away from one tackler, ran through an arm tackle, lowered his head and chugged forward for 16 yards to the Gilmer 34.

Another running play yielded little, and time was fading fast. Time to take the shot.

This time, the blocking was perfect. The offensive line formed a wall in front of Harmon as he looked for Cox. He rifled a liner that hit the sure-handed senior wideout in the eyes, in stride, as he slashed past the secondary.

“He was wide open. It was a great call by coach Fincher,” said the quarterback.

“I knew I had it all the way,” said the receiver.

“It was a great throw. Right on the money,” said the coach.

The. Crowd. Went. Wild.


The kick

Poppy and the Buckeyes weren’t anywhere near finished. The senior signal-caller finished the night 27-of-41with one interception for 392 yards. He rushed for 100 yards and another TD.

“He’s a great quarterback, probably the best in the state,” said defensive coordinator Brandon Easterly, who spent the night mixing blitzes and disguising coverages to slow down Brown and the Buckeyes. “He can drop in his passes, and he’s hard to get down when he runs.”

Brown promptly complete passes of 20, 31 and 11 yards and had the Buckeyes in the red zone with 21.4 seconds to play. As it did all night, the PG defense rallied when it counted most. Brown was trapped trying to scramble and then threw an interception.

Gilmer Coach Matt Turner sent in kicker Adan Ibarra, who connected on a 26-yarder at the close of the first quarter and was 4-for-4 on point-after tries since, to tie the game from 31 yards away.

After three timeouts, Ibarra approached the ball, made solid contact and lofted a high kick aimed dead center between the goal posts. Then something happened. The dank and, by that point, sweaty, night air seemed to grab it, to blow it back. It just sort of stopped going forward and softly fell to the rubber track.

The entire stadium seemed to stop for three milliseconds. Maybe both sides needed a moment to process, just long enough for a shallow breath.

The aftermath

Emotions flowed on both sides. The Pleasant Grove side exploded with sustained glee, with maybe a touch of released frustration. On the other side of the stadium, a pin was heard to drop, and clatter down the concrete steps, coming to rest on the heel of a stunned Buckeye.

Gibson made it clear he considered a district win, on the road, against a program that consistently competes for state titles a step toward joining Texas’ elite.

“Three years ago, we could barely play with these guys,” Gibson told his players as they encircled him. “Two years ago, we knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey, let me in.’

“Tonight, we beat that door down and said, ‘Here we are,’” he growled as his players mobbed him.

At the other end of the field, conversations were muted, like at a funeral for a favored uncle.

“Tonight, we got beat by a good team,” Turner told his silent players, as they were encircled by teary-eyed adults and students. “That’s going to happen. We may well face them down the road. What’s important now is what we do next.”

Gilmer (4-2, 0-1) next week travels to Gladewater (2-4, 1-0). The Hawks (6-0, 1-0) will return home to take on Atlanta (3-3, 0-1), which fell to Pittsburg, 43-19.


PG –    7          14        7         13 – 41

G –      3         14        14        7 – 38


The Hawk cheerleaders help welcome the team onto the field for the start of the game


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A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.