MESQUITE — If the Gilmer Buckeyes thought they had this one wrapped up with a 14-0 lead at half-time, they were quite mistaken.
Melissa, which has proven to be a second-half team all year, came out after the break and administered a 35-9 shellacking the rest of the way for a 35-23 win in Friday's Class 4A Division II Region II semifinal at Memorial Stadium.
Ja'Bray Young ran for four second-half touchdowns, including sprints of 50 and 51 yards, and quarterback Brendon Lewis threw for 247 yards that was highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown strike to Kennedy Lewis in the third quarter.
Young finished with 176 yards on 17 carries while Kennedy Lewis totaled four catches for 158 yards. The Cardinal defense all but shut down Gilmer's explosive offense in the second half, though Buckeye quarterback Aaron Brown threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score.
This was Melissa's first win over Gilmer (10-3) after three blowout losses the past three seasons, including a 55-6 loss in the area round a year ago, and with it the Cards (12-1) extended their school-record win-streak for a single season to 12.
“Our coaches told us to stay positive,” Brendon Lewis said. “We knew we were the better team, but we have a tendency to start off slow. The O-line, everybody, did their part and the defense stepped up.”
Melissa moves on to face Texarkana Pleasant Grove (13-0) in the region final at 7 p.m. on Friday at Paris.
“It's a pretty good feeling,” Cards head coach Seth Stinton said fresh from a water cooler bath. “I'm so proud of our kids. They've been working so hard to get over that Gilmer 'mystique' a little bit. Our guys responded so well. We got down early but there's no quit in us.
“We had opportunities in the first half to make some plays and had some stuff not go our way. Our kids made those plays in the second half. Then our defense was just tremendous all night.”
Melissa's first scoring drive, 81 yards in five plays, featured a 30-yard scamper by Breelyn Armstrong and was capped by Young's 1-yard dive to pay-dirt. Grant Whittington recovered the Cards' ensuing onside kick at midfield and one play later Young romped 50 yards up the middle and into the end zone again.
Gilmer retook the lead after seven plays when Brown connected with Bran Webb on a 30-yard touchdown pass. Melissa came right back with the 80-yard bomb to Kennedy Lewis, but the Buckeyes blocked the extra-point kick and returned it for two points and Gilmer kept the lead at 23-20.
Linebacker Marvin Jordan returned the momentum to Melissa with an interception near midfield on the Buckeyes' next possession and seven plays later, Young's 12-yard touchdown run and Kennedy Lewis' 2-point conversion catch put the Cards up for good, 28-23, with 10:55 left.
After an ineligible-player-downfield-penalty erased a Gilmer 48-yard touchdown pass to Qua Heath, Young and the Cards' o-line closed it out with Young's 51-yard scoring dash with under four minutes left.
After the Buckeyes' first touchdown, a 25-yard Brown-to-Webb pass, Gilmer recovered an onside kick near midfield but Melissa ended the threat on fourth-and-10 from the Cardinal 29 when defensive end Caleb Kroese batted away Brown's pass.
Brown gave Gilmer its 14-0 half-time lead on a three-yard run early in the second quarter.