SAGINAW – A blocked punt seemed to trigger a scoring frenzy for Gunter as the Tigers scored four touchdowns in a span of just under four minutes Friday at Ranger Stadium to break open a tight game on the way to a 35-12 victory over Tolar in a Class 2A Division II area football playoff game.
The District 6-2A runner-up Rattlers (9-3), who led 6-0 at halftime, saw their season come to a close with the setback after having won nine of their previous 10 contests.
The District 7-2A champion Tigers (10-1) advanced to the regional quarterfinal round against Nocona, which eliminated Edgewood Friday night.
Gunter’s defense limited Tolar running back Cory Solomon to a season-low 30 yards on 11 carries. Solomon, who had only one other game with fewer than 100 yards this year, finished the season with 1,723 yards on 227 carries in 12 games. It was the second straight 1,000-yard rushing season for the junior, who scored 24 touchdowns in 2012.
The Rattlers turned the ball over three times, and had just 69 rushing yards in all. Tolar’s previous low in team rushing this year was 150 yards in a season-opening 24-6 loss at San Saba.
Poor field position and Gunter’s ball control were also recurring themes that plagued the Rattlers. The blocked punt early in the third quarter and a defensive stop on fourth down at Gunter’s 29-yard-line on Tolar’s next possession were key moments.
“They did a good job on us up front all night,” Franklin said. “The blocked punt and the fourth down where we were one chain link short, those two things changed the whole complexion of the game.
“Today, the breaks went against us. We didn’t make breaks for ourselves. Their kids played well. It was a hard-fought game, and we made more mistakes than them. You give them the ball with a short field that many times, and it’s hard to stop them.
“They were physical up front. They were probably bigger and stronger than us. Our effort was there. They wore us down; we (the defense) couldn’t get of the field.”
Tolar starting quarterback Corbin Wood threw for 94 yards, completing six of eight attempts.
Senior Tolar wideout Grant Winston led all receivers in the game with six catches for 67 yards.
The Tigers misfired on their first eight passes before completing three of their last five in the third quarter for 101 yards, including three touchdown passes from quarterback J Bailey.
“We weren’t hitting our keys on defense,” said senior defensive back and receiver Zack Hasegawa, who led Tolar in receiving yards this season with 382 – one yard ahead of Grant Winston – and in interceptions, with four.
“We gave them some big plays that shouldn’t have happened. We just weren’t ourselves. We’ve played better than this.”
B.J. Dollins had scored on a 2-yard run at the 2:31 mark in the second quarter as Tolar gained its 6-0 lead. That capped a seven-play, 56-yard drive.
But following the second-half kickoff, the Rattlers were forced to punt from their own 21-yard line and Cade Cruce blocked Tolar’s punt. The Tigers took possession at the Rattlers’ 12-yard-line on the play.
Three snaps later Bailey flipped an 11-yard TD pass to Will Neely. Cruce’s kick put the Tigers ahead to stay, 7-6, with 9:34 left in the third quarter.
Gunter’s dizzying scoring sequence ultimately yielded five straight touchdowns before the Rattlers could score again on Wood’s 23-yard pass to Rodie Brister at the 5:10 mark in the fourth quarter. The play was the result of a 70-yard, six-play drive that also included a 27-yard completion to Hasegawa.
Gunter reached the 2A state quarterfinal round each of the past two years.
“Tolar played an outstanding game. They played an outstanding first half,” said Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel, whose squad has won nine in a row. “The breaks just fell our way. I’m proud of our kids, the way they hung in there. We cleaned up our penalties and turnovers.”
Fieszel agreed that the blocked punt was crucial.
“That was big. That was really, really big,” he said. “You’ve got to make big plays to win a playoff game. That was the big play we needed, and the kids caught fire after that.”
Franklin said that Gunter had not played a game since Nov. 2 because Whiteright forfeited to the Tigers in their regular-season finale, and they had a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
“They were rested and they were fresh,” Franklin said. “We were hoping they would be rusty.
“I told the kids I was proud of everything they did. They had a great year, and a lot of things went their way.”
Tolar senior cornerback and reserve quarterback Landon Morris, who intercepted three passes this year, said, “We were put to the test today and it just wasn’t one of our greatest games. We had good effort all season.”
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TIGERS 35, RATTLERS 12
Tolar 0 6 0 6 – 12
Gunter 0 0 28 7 – 35
T – B.J. Dollins 2 run (pass failed)
G – Will Neely 11 pass from J Bailey (Cade Cruce kick)
G – Justin Shipp 33 pass from Bailey (Cruce kick)
G – Cruce 57 pass from Bailey (Cruce kick)
G – Cruce 13 run (Cruce 13 run)
G – Dakota Hunter 31 run (Cruce kick)
T – Rodie Brister 23 pass from Corbin Wood (pass failed)
First downs 12 13
Rushes-yards 24-70 44-167
Passing yards 132 101
Comp-att-int. 11-16 3-13-0
Punts-avg. 6-22.2 3-25
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1
Penalties-yards 7-65 11-65
Tolar – Cory Solomon 11-30, Dakota Endsley 6-21, Corbin Wood 5-15, B.J. Dollins 1-2, Grant Winston 1-2.
Gunter – Dakota Hunter 21-128, Cade Cruce 15-74, Rhett Taylor 6-33, J Bailey 6-6.
Tolar – Wood 6-8-0, 94 yards; Dakota Endsley 5-8-1, 34 yards.
Gunter – Bailey 3-10-0, 101 yards; Cruce 0-3-0.
Tolar – Grant Winston 6-67, Zack Hasegawa 2-33, Rodie Brister 1-23, Landon Morris 1-4, Alfredo Triana 1-0.
Gunter – Cruce 1-57, Justin Shipp 1-33, Will Neely 1-11.
Tolar fumble recovery – Dollins.