The scoreboard showed a 38-14 Grand Saline win, but the game meant much more than that for Quitman. A somber mood covered the stadium at Grand Saline Friday night as the Quitman Bulldogs slowly walked through their inflated tunnel led by seniors A.J. Dunn, Garrett Taylor and Sebastian Howle who were holding Stephen Love’s number eight jersey.
Love, a wide receiver and defensive back, was killed in a car wreck the previous Sunday morning. Each Bulldog had the number eight on their helmet in honor of their fallen teammate. Bulldog fans did their part by having an overflow crowd on the visitor’s side of Indian Memorial Stadium supporting the young men on the field.
The Bulldogs matched up evenly with the Indians in all phases of the game except for turnovers. The Bulldogs gave the Indians the ball five times including three interceptions, a fumble and on an onside kick leading to the Indians win.
Running back A.J. Dunn was a warrior, playing on both sides of the ball with a steady limp but never quitting. Dunn came off the field just once for two plays to get his knee checked out. The senior running back finished the night with a career high of two touchdowns and 144 yards rushing on 23 carries, averaging over six yards per carry.
Josh Medlin added to his arsenal with 85 yards on 13 carries, almost seven yards a carry. Medlin also completed 5-13 passes for another 40 yards.
The determined Bulldogs fought hard against the home town Indians and were down 21-14 at the half before falling 38-14.
“I thought our kids handled all the adversity from this week pretty good. They were all upset at the end because they really wanted to win this one for Stephen. They really played with heart and passion,” Coach Bryan Oakes said. “Unfortunately, you just can’t give up five turnovers and expect to win. Overall, we did so much better on offense and defense. I really thought, with the exception of the turnovers, our kids played well enough to win the football game.”
Dunn and Medlin did great on offense while Dunn and Taylor Garrett had their best defensive games. “Having A.J. back gave us a lift on both sides of the ball,” Oakes said. “Medlin ran the ball the best he has all year.”
Oakes said he was also pleased with a pair of his defensive backs. “Gavin Derryberry played as tough as you can with four solo tackles and two big plays breaking up passes. When you consider his size, Carlos Rodriquez played outstanding in the secondary. Carlos did an overall great job for us,” Oakes added. “Dunn had six solo tackles and Taylor added seven solo stops on defense.”
Quitman blocked a first quarter field goal attempt by the Indians, but Grand Saline started the scoring with an interception return by Luke Melton and the point after by Jose Vargas with just 3:50 left in the first quarter.
River Chaney returned the kick-off to the 30 yard line and Josh Medlin went to work from there. Medlin had three completions to Taylor and the junior quarterback had a 23 yard run to the three yard line. From there it was Dunn bowling over and through Grand Saline defenders for the score. Medlin ran in the two-point conversion and the Bulldogs had an 8-7 lead at 11:53 left in the first half.
Midway through the second quarter Indian running back Zane Taylor broke through the Bulldog defense for an 80-yard scoring jaunt and with the Vargas kick the Indians led was 14-8 at 7:42 left in the second quarter. Grand Saline scored again on a short pass from Jaxon Taylor to Jordan Smith and the Indians led 21-6 with just over three minutes to go in the half.
A deep kick-off pinned the Bulldogs back on their own 14-yard line with less than three minutes left in the half. The Bulldogs marched 86 yards in 10 plays with Medlin running three times for 25 yards and Dunn seven times for 61 yards and the final five yards for a touchdown. The conversion attempt was not good leaving the score 21-14 with 30 seconds to go before intermission.
The Indians took the kick-off back to the Quitman 43-yard line ran two plays but missed a long field goal attempt as time ran out in the half.
The most exciting play of the season was a Garrett Taylor 75 yard punt return which was nullified by a blocking penalty back up field on the Bulldogs. Taylor took the kick, made a pair of defenders miss tackles, reversed his field, stiff-armed a would-be tackler and followed blockers back and forth all the way to the goal line. “It was a great return with mostly good blocking. Taylor did a great job of finding his blockers out front. He also made them miss a few times. It’s a shame it was called back. It really would have given us a lift,” Oakes said.
The win was Grand Saline’s first of the year to give them a 1-8 mark while the Bulldogs fall to 0-9. The Indians travel to Farmersville to finish their season. Quitman will celebrate Senior Night at Bud Moody Stadium against a resurgent Commerce team who has defeated Winnsboro and Mineola in their last two games.
Mt. Vernon is the District 7-3A DI champion with a 6-0 district slate and 10-0 on the year. The Tigers have a bye this week. Farmersville is 3-2 in district play with Grand Saline to go, while Commerce, after starting the year at 0-6 is at 3-2 in district and Mineola is also 3-2. Winnsboro is at 2-3 after a bye week. Mineola and Winnsboro are fighting for the final playoff spot in District 7 Class 3A.