VAN ALSTYNE — In today’s uncertainty things are unknown. Based on recent history, however, the success of the Gunter Tigers has been a constant as evidenced by a pair of Class 3A Division II state titles in the past four seasons.
The defending champions were slated to scrimmage Van Alstyne in preparation for this season. The uncertainty involving the coronavirus pandemic not only forced them to find a new opponent for their first game, which had been Sunnyvale, but it put Van Alstyne in the same position after the Panthers were originally scheduled to take on the team they beat to open the playoffs last season, Life Oak Cliff.
So instead of facing off in a setting that didn’t count, the Tigers and Panthers just moved the action back a week — their first match-up since 2007 — to serve as the season-opener and Gunter jumped out to an early lead on the way to a 48-7 victory over Van Alstyne.
Hudson Graham completed 12-of-13 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, Ethan Sloan ran six times for 77 yards and two TDs and also caught three passes for 84 yards and a score, Cole Lemons finished with seven receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown and Saul Rodriguez had 73 yards and a TD on three carries for the Tigers, who totaled 628 yards — 353 of it coming on the ground.
Gavin Montgomery had 13 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown and completed 5-of-7 passes for 36 yards, Jaden Mahan added eight carries for 20 yards and Chris Berrios had a reception for 18 yards for the Panthers, who finished with 163 yards of offense.
Gunter won the toss and deferred to the second half. Van Alstyne was unable to do anything with its opening possession.
The Tigers put together a drive to the Panthers 23-yard line and attempted a field goal but came up empty.
After trading possessions, Gunter finally broke through as Sloan raced 40 yards with four seconds remaining in the first quarter for a 7-0 advantage.
Van Alstyne’s next drive stalled near midfield but the Panthers pinned Gunter at its seven-yard line on the punt. The bad field position did not deter the Tigers. They would take the ball to the 34-yard line and Sloan finished off the drive again with another touchdown run.
The next series saw Gunter change up their style as Graham went to the air. He connected with Sloan twice, including a 69-yard touchdown pass, and then hit Cole Lemons once. The Tigers went for the two-point conversion but Van Alstyne intercepted it and was down 20-0 late in the first half.
A fumble recovery by Martin Garcia gave Gunter the ball on the 46-yard line with time winding down in the second quarter. The Tigers were able to capitalize on the turnover as Graham found Lemons for 10 yards and then hit Cade Roller on a 36-six yard pass to score with four seconds left and take a 27-0 lead at the half.
Gunter opened the second half with a scoring drive capped off with a 52-yard run by Saul Rodriguez and the Tigers continued to hold Van Alstyne scoreless with a 34-0 advantage after three quarters. As the forth quarter opened, Graham capped his performance with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Lemons just seconds into the final frame. With 9:01 left in the contest, Cannon Lemberg ran 73 yards to close out the scoring for the Tigers.
The Panthers were able to avoid the shutout with a 17-yard touchdown by Montgomery.
Van Alstyne will travel to former district opponent Bonham on Friday while Gunter heads to Pottsboro, the only team to beat the Tigers last season on their way to a title.