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Gunter has easy time in playoff opener

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Gunter's Cole Lemons returns an interception for a touchdown in the Tigers' bi-district win over Rice at Rains. Lemons picked off three passes and returned two for scores.

EMORY — It should be no surprise that Cole Lemons has good hands since the junior leads Gunter in receiving with more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns.

But as the defending state champions opened the playoffs he was busy catching passes from the other team. And when Lemons had his third interception of the first half, there was only a twinge of disappointment that he didn’t return it for a touchdown.

“I’d already had two,” Lemons said. “It’s all about going out and doing the things I can do to help the team. The coaches said it would be decided by the first 12 minutes. We knew if we went out and did our thing we could dominate.”

The trio of interceptions by Lemons and his two TD returns were part of seven turnovers and Gunter scored on all but one of seven first-half possessions in a 62-0 victory over Rice in a Class 3A Division II Region II bi-district contest at Rains.

“The state championship feels so long ago. We try to keep them in the process of what’s happening right now,” Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. “We really don’t talk about it. Our kids have to continue to play hard.”

Gunter (10-1) will take a nine-game winning streak into a match-up against either Jacksboro or Henrietta in the area round at Grapevine on Thursday night.

Ashton Bennett led the Tigers with nine carries for 48 yards and three touchdowns, Ethan Sloan caught a pair of touchdown passes from Hudson Graham and finished with 87 yards from scrimmage on only four touches and Mitchell Brewer also scored on the ground.

It was Gunter’s second straight shutout and the program’s third-ever playoff whitewashing, the first since a 66-0 win over Grand Saline in 2015. Since having two weeks off, the Tigers have outscored their last three opponents 181-6 and have held their last five foes to single digits.

“I really think we’re getting close to playing our best football and this is the right time to do it,” Fieszel said.

Rice (5-6) managed just 28 yards on 24 carries and didn’t gain a first down until there was 3:45 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs attempted five passes and four were intercepted — Cade Dodson had the other in the closing minutes. Rice ran just 29 plays and either gained zero or lost yards on 13 of them. Four gained more than two yards.

Gunter also had three fumble recoveries, the last by Ivy Hellman, and the game featured a running clock that began in the middle of the second quarter as the Tigers were on their way to a 59-0 half-time lead.

Logan Hubbard’s 23-yard field goal less than a minute into the fourth quarter accounted for the only second-half scoring.

Gunter ran only 22 plays on the way to the lopsided score at half-time to go with a pair of defensive touchdowns and a safety.

The only time the Tigers saw a drive end without points was early in the second quarter when Hubbard missed a 33-yard field goal attempt.

The Bulldogs had three fumbles which contributed to the first 16 points.

Josiah Morris lost the ball on the opening kickoff and Cooper Wade recovered at the six-yard line before Bennett punched it in from two yards out two plays later.

On the first play from scrimmage by the Bulldogs, Mason Peacock came up with a fumble and two snaps later Sloan caught a 14-yard swing pass for a TD and it was 14-0 less than a minute in.

Two plays into the next possession, Jerry Montgomery recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a safety.

Bennett ended the ensuing drive with a one-yard plunge for a 23-0 advantage at the 8:25 mark of the first quarter and Sloan hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass from Graham  up the left seam with a one-handed snap a couple minutes later and it was 31-0.

Bennett’s third touchdown of the half, this one a three-yard run, put the Tigers up 45-0 with 7:31 left in the half.

In the first two quarters, Rice managed just four yards on 15 carries and attempted four passes, three of which were intercepted by Lemons.

He returned the first 16 yards down the left sideline after stepping in front of the intended receiver to make it 38-0 with 3:43 to go in the first.

The second was brought back 34 yards, again down the left sideline, for a 52-0 advantage in the middle of the second quarter.

“It was all open space for the most part,” Lemons said. “There was one guy who ended up on the ground that I had to get around.”

His last was on a half-back pass he returned 43 yards to the Bulldog 19-yard line and two plays later Brewer had a three-yard touchdown run to make it 59-0 with two minutes left in the half.

Bi-district

Class 3A Division II Region II

Gunter                    62

Rice                         0