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Gilmer quarterback Chris James (7), below, scores a touchdown with 38 seconds to play, tying the game versus Cedartown, 35-35, last Friday. After a tipped pass by Nathan Bradley and interception by Johnie Flakes, senior kicker Manny Lopez (above) booted a 36-yard field goal to move GHS ahead, 38-35, with 17 seconds left in the game. An ensuing quarterback sack by Cole Ingram sealed the victory. Gilmer will host Dalton for the region championship, Nov. 8, at Huff-Mosley Memorial Stadium. (Photos by Robbie Bills)
 
 

Lopez kicks GHS past seventh-ranked Cedartown to complete improbable 4th quarter rally


by Robbie Bills
rbills@timescourier.com


Never count the Gilmer Bobcats out of a football game.
When it appeared all hope was lost last Friday at Doc Ayers Field in Cedartown, Gilmer shocked the seventh-ranked Bulldogs with a comeback in the waning seconds to win, 38-35.
“Their effort was great,” said GHS Head Coach Wes Tankersley of the Bobcats, before sharing the glory with teams from recent seasons. “I talked to our kids about this night, and how this just didn’t start this year. This (win) is something we started six or seven years ago. Even the 0-10 team we had (in 2008), they played a huge role in it; they never quit either.”
He added, “I let the players know that the moment tonight was bigger than just them, and they had to give everything they had to try and win. They did an awesome job coming out with a lot of enthusiasm and energy.”
The win over the previously undefeated Bulldogs sets up a meeting with Dalton for the Region 7-4A championship at Huff-Mosley Memorial Stadium Friday. Regardless of the outcome, both teams are guaranteed a home game in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. The winner will capture the region’s top seed and the loser will be seeded second.


Late-game dramatics

Heralded Bulldog running back Nick Chubb tied the game at 28-28 with a 27-yard touchdown run with 5:39 to play in the game. It was his fourth score of the night in which he rushed for 215 yards on 29 carries.
Turnovers soon got in the Bobcats’ way. Chad Watkins lost the handle on the ball 2 1/2 minutes after the equalizing score, and the Bulldogs wasted little time. Quarterback Harrison Barnett hit receiver Israel Battle in stride for a 55-yard touchdown to give Cedartown a 35-28 lead with 2:48 left on the clock.
GHS quarterback Chris James, who had not taken a snap since getting injured in week four versus Dalton, entered the game in a hurry-up situation. When he attempted a pass to tight end Austin Cole, Chubb was there for the interception, as the home crowd erupted with delight.
Needing a first down to cement the victory, Gilmer’s defense made a stand and held Chubb to eight yards on three consecutive carries. From their 45, the Bulldogs punted to Gilmer with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter.
With 81 yards standing between the Bobcats and a tying score, James led GHS downfield on 13 plays. He completed 4-of-6 passes for 59 yards while rushing for 21 more. He completed two fourth-down passes to Corey Waters, which included a 29-yard gain on fourth down and 10 from the Cedartown’s 32-yard line. James carried the ball two more times with his final tote resulting in a one-yard score. Lopez added the point after to tie the game at 35-35 with a mere 38 seconds left in regulation.
Rather than play for overtime, the Bulldogs went to the air, and when a pass across the middle was tipped by linebacker Nathan Bradley, Johnie Flakes intercepted and returned it 44 yards to Cedartown’s 18.
With 17 seconds on the clock, Tankersley called on Lopez, who proved to still have plenty of magic left in his right foot, as he booted a 36-yard field goal through the uprights.
A sack by defensive lineman Cole Ingram on the Bulldogs’ ensuing offensive play sealed the 38-35 victory as the clock expired.
“I think this kick tonight was the biggest one of my career, because it was at the end of the game,” Lopez said of his game-winning field goal. “This one is so important because it takes us to the region championship.”

Quarterback shuffle

Tankersley said he decided to go with James late in the game because of his height  advantage and greater ability to see the field over sophomore signal caller Thaddeus Bowers. James’ size and added dimension of being able to run the ball also aided Tankersley’s decision. The option to get Bowers on the field at receiver was an added bonus, and he caught a 12-yard pass on GHS’ final touchdown drive.
“I’ve been telling him for four weeks that he needs to be ready when he goes back in there,” Tankersley said of James. “It was a decision  we made (to start Bowers) about a month ago, to keep our momentum going. But obviously tonight we needed a little change in momentum and we got (James) in there and he was mentally prepared and ready to go and he did a great job. We also knew Bowers could play receiver and give us two good targets on one side of the field.”
Following James’ injury in week three, Bowers started five games and led the Bobcats to a 5-0 record. He played the entire game against Cedartown prior to GHS’ last two possessions. Bowers completed 2-of-5 passes for 34 yards versus the Bulldogs. James finished the game with 80 yards passing on 6-of-11 attempts. He also rushed 26 yards.
“It meant a lot to me to get in there at the end,” James said. “I had no clue they were going to put me in there. I went in and kept my cool after the interception and was able to find the end zone there at the end.”
With both quarterbacks fully healthy, Tankersley said he is unsure who will start in the region championship.
“It’s going to be a day-by-day thing. We may use both of them or we may start James. I’m not 100 percent certain. We’ll see how practice goes the next couple of days,” he said.


Early lead evaporates

Gilmer went three and out on its first drive of the game, but when Cedartown could not field the punt, Gilmer took over at the Bulldogs’ 28 when Bradley recovered the fumble.
Cole made a diving grab for a 21-yard gain on third and 11 for a first and goal at the eight. Three plays later, Flakes scored his first touchdown of the game.
After forcing a punt, Gilmer drove 87 yards on 17 plays. Flakes and Tyler Bertolini carried the Cats downfield. Flakes breached the goal line for his second score on a  two-yard run and GHS increased its lead to 14-0 early in the second.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs passed for three first downs before Chubb scored on a 26-yard rush. He broke eight tackles on the run after being met four-yards deep in the backfield.
Cole blocked the point after and five plays later, Gilmer scored again. Flakes carried four times on the drive for 63 yards, which included a 50-yard gain to set up first and goal from the four. He scored on the next play and GHS led 21-6 with 4:49 left in the half.
After being forced to punt again, Cedartown got the ball back on GHS’ 12 after Watkins fumbled. Chubb scored four plays later from a yard away.
After only eight carries in the first half, Chubb rushed seven straight times to begin the second half, which covered 83 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion evened the score at 21-21.
Gilmer responded with a 79-yard drive on 13 rushes. Flakes and Bertolini took turns picking up first downs. A 14-yard touchdown run by Flakes moved GHS back ahead by seven with 2:11 left in the third before the tension-filled fourth quarter.


Running backs lead offenses

Chubb’s 215 yards were 50 below his seasonal average. He did the bulk of his damage on runs of 26, 28, 22, 19 and 27 yards. On 13 carries he was held to three yards or less.
Barnett completed 8-of-16 passes for 154 yards and Battle finished with four catches for 116 yards.
Bobcat offensive linemen Jake Ingram, Josh Aaron, Garrett Sellers, Lucas Bramlett, Bailey Lambert and tight end Cole continued to do the dirty work in the trenches for the Bobcats’ offense as Flakes and Bertolini finished the game with 187 and 92 rushing yards, respectively. Bertolini now has 915 this season and Flakes has 826.
Waters had five receptions for 68 yards. Bertolini led GHS defensively with 12 total tackles and a quarterback sack. Bradley and Waters finished the game with 9 tackles. Cody Richards played well along the defensive line and made 6 stops.


Coach ‘optimisitc’

Cedartown’s Caleb Ely suffered a head injury during the third quarter and was rushed to the hospital to undergo surgery. Bulldogs’ coach Scott Hendrix told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Ely was responding favorably Sunday and he was “cautiously optimistic at this time.”


Top game of tenure

When asked where the victory ranked in his six seasons as head coach at GHS, Tankersley said it is at the top. “This has got to be No. 1. Just because of the hype of the game ... them being ranked seventh and 8-0. The Dalton win a couple years ago and the Northwest win last year are right up there, but this one is huge because we won the subregion and secured a home playoff game. This was an opportunity to be a champion and higher stakes came with that. Our past has been building blocks to this game. I told the kids before the game, ‘We’ve beaten everybody in the region and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to win this football game.’”
Tankersley asked that the Bobcat faithful continue their strong support of the program when the Bobcats host Dalton (7-2) for the region championship at Huff-Mosley Memorial Stadium. 
Kickoff Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.


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