GILMER — Wildcats junior defensive back Bubba Gray opened the top-5 showdown between Paris and Gilmer with a bang as his 30-yard pick-six on the game’s first play put the Wildcats ahead 7-0 on Gilmer’s homecoming night, which ultimately resulted in an impressive 37-20 victory for the Wildcats.
Against a team the caliber of Gilmer, which was coming off big wins over state-ranked Atlanta of Class 3A and Class 4A Van, the early boost helped set the tone early.
“We’ve said it all week. It’s a mindset, you’ve got to think like a king,” Paris head football coach Steven Hohenberger said. “You’ve got to believe in dreams, believe in the hard work you do and that it will come true. You have to think like that, don’t stay down — keep competing and practice that way winning every day. Right off the bat, that’s good to know against Gilmer — they’re a heck of a football team, now.”
Paris and Gilmer each punted on their next two possessions, and it was Gilmer’s turn to try to even the score. However, on 4th-and-5 on the Paris 3 with 4:53 left, senior defensive end Tre McCarty shut down the Buckeyes’ run play, which allowed Paris to take over and capitalize.
The Wildcats sustained a nice drive down to the Gilmer 7 yard line, where they had 1st-and-goal with time winding down in the opening quarter. However, back-to-back penalties backed Paris up to the Buckeyes 27 with the same down and distance. Sophomore quarterback Luke Hohenberger took matters into his own hands, or legs in this case.
“He’s not really fast, I think my youngest son Tannon is faster than he is,” Steven Hohenberger said jokingly.
On the next play following the penalties, Luke Hohenberger saw a bust in protection up front and scrambled towards the left sideline and into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown run as the quarter expired. Bryan Ramirez’s extra point made it a 14-0 lead.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him and all of the hard work he puts in,” Hohenberger said of his quarterback. “He’s got an innate ability to keep his eyes up the field. He had that big scramble where protection broke down and it looked like a quarterback draw, but that’s not what was diagrammed. Again, it’s a players game, players make plays and we’ve got great players.”
No matter the situation, the players are eager to win in any way possible.
“We’ve talked about it since the spring — OTE is the thing around here,” Wildcats sophomore quarterback Luke Hohenberger said. “We’ve just got to be a team. Whether I have to come out and throw 30 passes to win a game or throw four passes, I’m going to come out here, be a good leader and know my role. We all have our roles on the team, the coaches do a good job of game planning and when we come out here and execute, we know we will be hard to stop.”
The Wildcats attempted an onside kick to catch Gilmer sleeping to open the second quarter, but it nearly backfired as the Buckeyes returned it deep in Paris territory, where they had 1st-and-goal. However, a big tackle for a loss and a penalty pushed Gilmer back to the Paris 17 where the team faced 3rd-and-goal. The Buckeyes snapped the ball and senior defensive back Trae Johnson read the deep crossing route over the middle perfectly as he intercepted the ball at the goal line and returned it to the Paris 39 yard line with 10:33 left before intermission.
“The defense came out strong,” Gray said. “We’ve practiced the defense to run against them a lot. We practiced it and executed it Monday through Thursday, then we came out and played and they couldn’t play with us.”
Paris faced 4th-and-1 at its own 48 with 8:24 left and elected to go for it. Junior running back Zy’kius Jackson powered ahead for two yards and drew a facemask flag to put Paris in business at the Gilmer 35 yard line with a fresh set of downs. The Wildcats were tasked with converting another fourth down, this time needing eight yards with the line to gain at the Buckeyes 30. Luke Hohenebrger extended the play and found senior running back Do’rian Williams open in the flat, and he fought through and around several Gilmer defenders for a 15-yard gain. Paris now had a fresh set of downs at the Gilmer 23, which eventually led to a 10-yard touchdown run from Jackson and a 20-0 Paris lead after the point after attempt was no good.
Ramirez tacked on a 34-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to push Paris’ lead to 23-0 at the half.
Gilmer finally got on the board with a short touchdown run and successful point after attempt with 10:45 left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 23-7, but Paris quickly countered as Luke Hohenberger found junior K.D. Washington for 26 yards through the air, putting the Wildcats at the Gilmer 2 yard line. Jackson punched it in on the next play to stretch the lead back to 23 points at 30-7. Gilmer did not go away quietly, though.
The Buckeyes faced a 4th-and-short in Paris territory, which resulted in a 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass. The two-point conversion try was no good, but Gilmer cut it to 30-13. As the game turned into a defensive struggle, Gilmer scored again later in the fourth courtesy of a 3-yard touchdown run and successful point after attempt with 4:50 left in regulation. The score was 30-20.
However, Paris dug its heels in and delivered the dagger. The Wildcats failed on a fourth down try earlier in the quarter, but were determined to make amends.
“It was fourth and short and they said, ‘Coach, we’ll get it’,” Steven Hohenberger said. “We missed one at midfield, they wanted to go for it, we went for it and we got stuffed. I should have had a better play called, but at that point I trust the quarterback and our kids so much. We ran a bootleg feeling like he would either run or throw for the first down, and we had three guys open. I can’t say enough about Jailen Franklin and his catch. He’s a young man that started the year on JV the first couple of games but, because of his work ethic and who he is as a person, we moved him up. He made a huge catch tonight to seal the game.”
Luke Hohenberger found Jailen Franklin on a 4th-and-3 play at the Gilmer 47 with 3:40 remaining for 24 yards and a Paris first down. Two more runs from Washington, who found the end zone from five yards out on a jet sweep with 2:03 left, pushed Paris’ lead to 37-20 after another successful point after attempt from Ramirez. The Wildcats forced and recovered a Gilmer fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which allowed them to assume victory formation for the remainder of regulation.
“We had to hang on there a little bit at the end. They’re explosive and Coach (Matt) Turner does an amazing job there,” Hohenberger said. “I think it will come down to them and PG going to state in their region. We’re just really excited to come down here in a great atmosphere and get a win.”
Luke Hohenberger finished the contest completing 4 of his 8 pass attempts for 85 yards to go with his 27-yard touchdown run. Jackson finished with 25 carries for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns along with a reception for 20 yards. Washington compiled 9 carries for 66 yards and a score along with 1 reception for 26 yards. Williams added 46 yards of offense as well.
Dykalen Douglas led the defense with 10 tackles and a forced fumble, while Quin Dangerfield recorded 7 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss. McCarty added 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss and 1 pass broken up, while Jameon Mitchell was strong in the secondary with 7 tackles and 4 passes broken up. Johnson had an interception and 2 passes broken up, while Gray tallied 4 tackles and his interception return for a touchdown. Zyrius Walters also chipped in with 6 tackles.
The Wildcats take the field away from Wildcat Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mount Pleasant.
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 F
Paris: 14 9 7 7 37
Gilmer: 0 0 7 13 20
Paris total yards: 427
Gilmer total yards: 228
Paris passing leaders: L. Hohenberger, 4-for-8, 85 yards
Paris rushing leaders: Z. Jackson, 25-193; K. Washington, 9-66; D. Williams, 10-36; L. Hohenberger, 1-27; J. Mitchell, 4-24
Paris receiving leaders: K. Washington, 1-26; J. Franklin, 1-24; Z. Jackson, 1-20; D.Williams, 1-15