GUNTER — The second-ranked Gunter Tigers had their lead cut to seven points early in the third quarter and their head coach sent to the locker room.
It would have been understandable if a little panic had set in at Tiger Stadium in a District 5-3A (II) clash against Holliday.
Instead, Gunter’s defense dominated the rest of the second half, keeping its perfect season alive with a 30-13 victory over the Eagles.
Dylan Jantz was again Gunter’s catalyst, rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns, the last of which was a two-yard score with 1:45 remaining that sealed the outcome.
What the senior play-maker witnessed from his Tigers once head coach Jake Fieszel was ejected for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties bodes well for the future.
“What I saw tonight with how this team responds to adversity and how it came, I think we can do great things with that,” Jantz said. “The way we came back, it blew my mind. I knew that some of us would be fine with it, but I didn’t know how others would respond. They grew up and played how we needed them to play.”
Once Holliday cut Gunter’s lead to 20-13 early in the third quarter, the Tigers scored the game’s final 10 points and allowed the Eagles only 17 yards in the final 21 minutes.
In fact, Holliday (6-1, 1-1) only netted 165 yards with 112 coming on two big plays and the other 33 snaps yielding 53 yards.
Gunter (7-0, 3-0) came out and scored on its first two possessions against a Holliday defense that hadn’t surrendered any first-half points this season.
Ethan Everson capped off a 72-yard touchdown drive with a six-yard score, and after Holliday’s Crue Jackson answered with a 59-yard touchdown run, the Tigers answered with Jantz’s three-yard touchdown run for a 14-6 lead after one quarter.
“We came out and thought we were really playing fast. So were they,” Fieszel said. “We were able to execute a couple things and probably got a couple breaks. There’s no doubt in a big game like this to get up and give yourself a little bit of cushion in the start is how we wanted to start it off.”
Gunter built a 20-6 lead at the half and it was almost more than that as Jantz and kicker Evan Gonzalez executed a fake field goal that resulted in a 13-yard gain to the Holliday 3. But Everson’s pass on the last play of the half fell incomplete.
Even though the Tigers had more than three times as many offensive snaps as the Eagles in the first half (43-14), it became a one-score game when Holliday scored on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Kody Jones’ 53-yard catch and run helped put the Eagles in business and quarterback Jett Johnson finished it off with a one-yard sneak on fourth down. In between, Gunter lost its head coach.
After a Gunter player was ejected for what the Tigers felt like was retaliation for a Holliday foul, Fieszel came onto the field and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Once he returned to the sidelines, he was flagged again and had to leave as the ball was moved to the Gunter 3-yard line.
Fieszel declined comment when asked afterward about the sequence, but the Tigers didn’t let that disrupt their mindset. Gunter responded with a 58-yard drive that Gonzalez converted with a 31-yard field goal and a 23-13 advantage.
The Eagles never had good field position — their best was their own 29-yard line — and never mounted another threat after that. Gunter’s lone punt went out of bounds early in the fourth and Jantz finished off a 38-yard scoring drive in the last minutes.
When Everson picked off Johnson’s last-ditch heave, the Tigers could celebrate another well-deserved victory.
“When you play somebody that good, you better play it perfect,” Holliday head coach Frank Johnson said. “Tonight we got up the field a tad too far and against the average football team you make that tackle. With somebody with speed, you miss that tackle.”