ALLEN – The Connally Cadets never flinched at a deficit all season. That was a huge factor in the Connally football program notching its first 10-0 regular season in 29 years.
No. 2-ranked Connally mounted another comeback in its third-round playoff game against No. 6 Gilmer. The Cadets rallied from 19 points down, but they couldn’t close it out.
Gilmer made the vital plays in the fourth quarter and the Buckeyes claimed a 35-20 victory on Friday night at Allen ISD’s Eagle Stadium.
Connally running back and Washington commit Jay’Veon Sunday rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in his final high school game.
Cadets quarterback Kavian Gaither ran for 116 yards despite some late losses. His five-yard touchdown run and kicker Ralph Morales’ extra point put Connally in front 20-19 with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
However, Gilmer running back Darrell Bush ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. With that, the Buckeyes (10-3) advance to the Class 4A Division II Region 2 final to play the Texarkana Pleasant Grove-Sunnyvale winner.
Connally finished the season with a 12-1 record.
“We’ve rode the roller coaster all year, we’ve handled adversity,” Connally coach Shane Anderson said. “I didn’t think there’d be anything different. Once we got up, Gilmer did a good job of coming back and fighting.”
When Gilmer found itself trailing by a point late in the third quarter, the Buckeyes responded with a 13-play, 77-yard scoring drive that stretched into the fourth quarter.
Gilmer converted two fourth downs on the march, including the play that turned the game’s momentum.
Connally forced the Buckeyes into a fourth-and-11 at the Cadets’ 29. But Gilmer sophomore quarterback Brandon Tennison found wide receiver Dylan Fluellen for a 25-yard gain to the Connally 4. Bush scored on the next play for a 26-20 lead.
The Cadets scored on their first two drives of the second half to flush the Buckeyes’ 19-6 halftime lead.
But Gilmer stuffed Connally’s first possession of the fourth quarter inside the Cadets’ 15. Then the punt snap sailed out of the back of the end zone, boosting the Buckeyes’ lead to 28-20.
Bush sealed the deal when he sprung into the open and darted to a 56-yard touchdown run with 6:01 left.
“It’s upsetting that we played so well in special teams all year and then it comes down to a game like this when we just made a few mistakes,” Anderson said. “The thing you can’t take away is the effort of our kids and how hard they played and the season that they had. It’s a tribute to our senior class and the coaching staff. They’ve done a great job all year.
Gilmer controlled the momentum for most of the first half as the Buckeyes scored points on offense, defense and special teams to establish a 19-0 edge.
But Connally took some positive energy into the halftime locker room by finishing off a 67-yard drive with a touchdown less than a minute before the break.
Sunday broke loose for a 28-yard run into Gilmer territory and then it was Gaither’s turn to find a hole and scoot 26 yards to the Buckeyes’ 4.
Sunday showed aggressive determination as he bulled into the end zone from four yards out for Connally’s first score of the game. That cut Gilmer’s advantage to 19-6 at intermission.
But a couple of miscues cost the Cadets before that.
Gilmer scored its first points of the contest when Connally punter Korie Black had to chase down a snap over his head. The ball rolled past the Cadet goal line and Black swiped it past the end line, giving up a safety but keeping Gilmer from recovering the ball for a touchdown.
The Buckeyes moved in for Jose Hernandez’s 26-yard field on their ensuing possession, pushing ahead 5-0 late in the first quarter.
Connally had moved the ball into Gilmer territory in the second quarter when Gaither threw a pass down the line that was too high for Black. The Cadet receiver tipped it, but the ball stayed in bounds and the officials ruled it a backward pass and a live ball. Fluellen scooped the ball for Gilmer and took it 51 yards for a touchdown.
Bush scored the Buckeyes’ only offensive touchdown of the first half. He capped a 31-yard scoring drive with a three-yard TD run that put Gilmer ahead 19-0 with 2:28 remaining before the break.
Gilmer held Sunday to 54 rushing yards at halftime, more than half of it coming on the Cadets’ touchdown march late in the second quarter.