SPRINGTOWN — There are going to be a handful of chances, if even that many, where opponents can find a way to penetrate the Gunter Tigers’ winning streak.
When those opportunities come along, they cannot be wasted. Holliday found that out at the start of each half but the Eagles never capitalized and Gunter did what it has done for much of the 28 wins before this one — a clinical offensive approach in the run game combined with a near shutout effort on defense.
“We knew we were going to get their best shot,” said junior Dylan Jantz, who ran for 164 yards and four touchdowns on 11 carries. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. If we stick to the game plan, that’s where we have success.”
The Tigers took control in the second quarter and then cruised to a 48-7 victory in a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal on Friday night, putting them half-way to defending their state title.
Gunter (13-0) will face New Diana (10-3) in the region final at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Royse City.
“Every week in the playoffs, the intensity gets ramped up,” Tigers head coach Jake Fieszel said. “You’re either improving every week or you’re not playing your best game and can get knocked out.”
No one has come close to knocking out Gunter through three rounds as the Tigers have outscored opponents by a combined margin of 124-23. Jantz led the way in this one and Braiden Clopton added seven carries for 56 yards and a TD as Gunter finished with 350 yards rushing.
Six different Tigers had at least four carries and Gunter picked more than eight yards an attempt, excluding kneel downs.
“We have some really talented runners and a physical offensive line that moves people around,” Fieszel said.
Holliday (11-2) was not at full strength after quarterback Kade Patterson injured his right leg last week. The Eagles took a hit because it limited his mobility. Even healthy, however, it would have been tough to get anything going.
“You’ve got to give that young man credit,” Fieszel said. “He put his toughness on display. He gets a lot of respect from the Gunter Tigers.”
Holliday had two possessions that melted the first eight minutes of the game but came away empty before Gunter ran a play. Then if there were any hope of a comeback in the second half, Jantz dashed those on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter — a 78-yard option run that had him make a move on a defender to get into the open field and Layke Reed picked off the pursuit with a block to spring him down the right sideline for a 27-0 lead.
“We have that confidence. We’ve done that every week for 29 straight now,” Jantz said. “I can’t do anything without my offensive line and the blockers outside. The momentum shifted on that play, even though we already had it.”
The Eagles would have five possessions in the second half and didn’t pick up a first down on four of them, including a fake punt that was sniffed out after Holliday recovered a fumble at the Gunter 34 but immediately started going backwards.
The one successful drive Holliday did have included Justin Jones’ 69-yard touchdown run — which accounted for more than half of the Eagles’ 131 yards — with 2:30 remaining in the third that cut the deficit to 34-7. Jantz had scored on the previous drive from 19 yards out for his final touchdown of the night.
The Tigers closed out the scoring on a one-yard plunge by Bryson Rigsby three minutes in the fourth quarter and Clayton Reed’s lone carry was a 38-yard TD run with 3:54 remaining.
Gunter built a 20-0 half-time advantage on the strength of a dominant second quarter.
The game was scoreless after the first 12 minutes and the Tigers ran just three plays during that span as Holliday controlled the clock with three time-consuming drives.
The first play of the second quarter was a Holliday punt and Gunter went 60 yards in four plays. Peyton Lowe started the possession with a 23-yard run and Clopton finished it with an 18-yard touchdown run through the left side before getting to the end zone just inside the pylon. Gunter went for two and failed with 10:30 left in the half.
Holliday was pinned deep and punted from its end zone so Gunter had a short field, starting at the Eagles 30, after a 19-yard return by Clopton. Four plays later Jantz scored on an 11-yard run and it was 13-0 with 7:05 remaining in the quarter.
The Tigers increased the lead to 20-0 with a little under two minutes left before the break with Jantz outraced defenders to the end zone around the right end from four yards out.
Gunter ran just 19 plays — one pass — through two quarters.
Holliday’s best scoring chance in the first half was on the opening drive when the Eagles converted fourth-and-one at the Gunter 27 with a sneak by Patterson and eventually reached the Tiger 18 before settling for a field goal. Jantz came storming off the left side to block it, only for Gunter to fumble on the runback and Holliday started over at the Gunter 37.
Three plays later Zach Lowe picked off Paterson near midfield. Holliday had three possessions in the second quarter and gained just seven yards combined. The Eagles had 67 yards at the half and 57 of them came on their first series.