MESQUITE — The Melissa Cardinals’ turnaround season ended Friday night in a 55-6 playoff loss to the Gilmer Buckeyes in a Class 4A Div. II Area-round contest at E.H. Hanby Stadium.
Among the top four 4A teams in Texas, Gilmer (11-1) showed why early and often. With a strong north wind at their backs, the Buckeyes blew out to a 27-0 first-quarter lead, scoring each time they had the ball – and once when they didn’t, on a safety. Gilmer also nabbed an interception off freshman Cardinal quarterback Brendon Lewis in that first stanza.
“Obviously the first quarter was the worst first quarter you could imagine,” Melissa head coach Seth Stinton said.
Led by quarterback Aaron Brown, Gilmer rolled to 499 yards of offense while Buckeye defenders slammed the door on Melissa’s offensive output, allowing 150 yards. Cardinal freshman running back Ja’Bray Young tallied 69 of that on a fourth-quarter touchdown run, Melissa’s only points of the game.
“I’m super-proud of our kids,” Stinton said. “It’s never easy to go through a 1-9 season (in 2015) and then bounce back the way that we did. I thought our guys really did a great job. We’re 8-4 and Gilmer’s a really good football team. Everybody knew that going in. I can’t say enough about our seniors, just the way that they played, the way that they did such a great job of leading us all season.”
Seven Gilmer receivers collected 294 yards-worth of catches this night and eight Buckeye rushers got carries. Kelton Collier led the ground game, with 69 yards and three touchdowns. He also tackled Lewis in the end zone for the safety.
Melissa junior Tate Whittington, again rotating at quarterback with Lewis, finished 4-of-9 for all 40 of Melissa’s passing yards. Both quarterbacks were under pressure the entire game.
The Cardinals trailed the hot Buckeyes 41-0 at halftime, after two Collier touchdowns, two by Kameryn Cuevas, a 24-yard Adan Ibarra field goal and — Gilmer’s first points — a 28-yard touchdown strike from Brown to LaMarcus Morton. Morton led all receivers with five catches for 77 yards.
Stinton noted that his key freshman contributors — Young, Lewis and freshman running back Kaedric Cobbs — gained valuable experience on this trip to the post-season’s second round.
“To get into the playoffs and have young freshmen kids get to play quality reps in an area playoff game against a team of the caliber of Gilmer, that’s big-time for all those freshmen,” he said. ” That’s the thing that I look forward to. We were successful with the younger teams and those guys are going to be that way.”
Moving forward, Stinton said, he’s grateful for the opportunities he’s had at the helm of the Cardinals.
“We’ve got to do a lot of reflecting,” Stinton said, now five years removed from Melissa’s state championship. “We’re about to have Thanksgiving and I can’t say enough about what it means to be a coach, especially in Melissa. These kids are great kids. I’m a lucky guy to be here.”