Gunter wins fifth straight region title
ARLINGTON — As the defending state champions, the Gunter Tigers have had a target on their backs all season long and that figured to be the case in the Class 3A Division II Region II final match-up against Eastland at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Hudson Graham made sure that the Tigers would have nothing to worry about fairly quickly.
The junior quarterback accounted for nearly 400 yards of offense and seven touchdowns as the Tigers rolled to a 61-28 win over the Mavericks to earn a date with either Canadian or Childress in the state semifinals.
It is the fifth straight region championship for Gunter (13-1) and a match-up with Canadian would be the fifth consecutive year those two have met for a berth in the 3A-DII title game.
Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel was proud of the way his team showed up on both sides of the football. The Tigers had 462 yards of offense in the first half in building a 47-7 halftime lead and scored on all seven of their possessions.
“I think a half like that is never typical,” said Fieszel. “The kids were ready to play and went out there and played really fast and executed at a high level.”
Graham ran nine times for 159 yards and four touchdowns and completed 9-of-13 passes for 236 yards and three TDs, Cole Lemons had three catches for 115 yards and two scores as well as a TD run, Ethan Sloan had four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown and ran seven times for 49 yards and Ashton Bennett finished with 12 carries for 122 yards for Gunter.
Behren Morton completed 15-of-24 passes for 218 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Eastland, which was in the region final for the first time since 2013. Brandon Fielding had 11 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns and Dylan Wilson had a pair of catches for 88 yards and a TD.
Graham got the Tigers on the board just 87 seconds into the game after the defense forced a three-and-out by Eastland (10-4).
The Tigers needed just three plays to go 73 yards with Graham hitting Sloan with a 50-yard scoring toss to the left where Sloan gained the sideline and went untouched.
On the Tigers next possession, Graham’s 41-yard run made it 13-0 before he added a 41-yard touchdown pass to Cole Lemons with 21 seconds left in the quarter to make it 20-0.
Gunter then recovered an onside kick and Graham scored with an eight-yard run on the first play of the second quarter for a four-score lead.
Eastland coach James Morton was impressed by what he saw out of Graham and the Tigers.
“The quarterback is an outstanding player,” Morton said. “He does a lot for them, but they are very well coached and very well disciplined.”
As the offense was building the insurmountable lead, Gunter’s defensive front was doing an equally impressive job of shutting down Morton, a Texas Tech commit.
The defense recorded five sacks while consistently overpowering the Eastland offensive line and Lemons picked off a pass.
“(Morton) is a special player and he has a lot of really good talent around him too,” Fieszel said. “We were definitely trying to get underneath some of their routes and take some of his first reads away and trying to get our pass rush home.”
Fieszel went on to compliment the defensive coaching staff for their game plan to shut down Morton.
Trailing 27-0, Morton was able to get a big play in the passing game with a 76-yard touchdown pass to Wilson with 11:03 remaining in the first half, but after that it was all Tigers for the remainder of the first half.
Graham had scoring runs of 54 and 4 yards while Lemons added a 19-yard touchdown rush on his lone carry of the night with a reverse.
Mitchell Brewer had the lone score in a quiet third quarter with a four-yard run.
With most of Gunter’s starters sitting out the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were able to get a pair of Fielding touchdown runs sandwiched around Graham’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Lemons.
Keeton Hicks added an 8-yard TD run for the Mavericks with 2:05 to play for the final points of the night.
Class 3A Division II Region II