The inaugural year of the Division III 7-on-7 Championship saw a prominent face in Texas high school football take the crown as the Gunter Tigers ousted the Palmer Bulldogs, 34-27, in an overtime thriller.
With just over a minute left in regulation, Palmer quarterback Adrian Cisneros threw a full-field bomb to a wide-open receiver who strolled into the end zone for a touchdown. Palmer then elected to go for one and Cisneros threw another bullet to his receiver, tying the game at 27. Gunter quarterback Ethan Everson was unable to connect with a receiver on either of his two shots to the end zone, forcing overtime.
Gunter started the overtime period with the ball, and Everson darted the ball through a sea of Palmer defenders for a touchdown. Everson fit the ball through a narrow window again, successfully completing the two-point conversion and extending the Gunter lead to 34-27.
With the ball and an 8-point deficit, Cisneros completed on first down for a 7-yard completion. On third down, Cisneros found an open receiver on a corner route but it was called back due to a 4-second penalty, resulting in a loss of down. On fourth down, Cisneros connected with an open receiver in the middle of the field but was called for a 4-second penalty again, resulting in the end of the game and Gunter clinched the first ever Division III State 7-on-7 Championship, in its first year of 7-on-7 play.
“It just feels amazing. I can’t say they weren’t a good team. We had to battle it out to overtime but in the end we were able to have the little edge over them to win this thing,” Everson said.
Gunter, who usually runs a more pistol spread offense in the fall, displayed its ability to move the ball down the field through the air in the game. Everson looked poised with the ball in his hand and connected with many of his receivers with ease. Most often that connection was with Dylan Jantz, one of the state’s top receivers. The duo connected in the end zone twice in the game.
“It will be like 12 o’clock in the morning and we’ll turn on the lights at our field and we’ll just go throw some routes,” Everson said. “We’re always working together, we do camps together, we do everything together and that’s how we can connect so well on the routes.”
The championship game marked the seventh game in two days for both teams. Fatigue played a substantial role in the game as both teams had multiple players playing on both sides of the ball.
“Fatigue was a huge factor, it showed how far we still have to come this offseason. So many of our guys have to play both ways, we have a lot of things going on and we have to make sure we’re in as top shape as we can," Jantz said.
Though he admits winning the state championship feels good, Everson said that he can’t wait to get back under the Friday night lights after Gunter fell short in last year’s 3A State Championship game.
“We’re so ready for fall. We’ve never worked so hard before because we don’t want to lose like that again,” Everson said. "We worked so hard to get to the State Championship and then to lose like that. We never want to do that again.”
Jantz echoed Everson’s confidence ahead of the fall season.
“We’re going to be deadly this year, I can just feel it right now. With our run game and how we’ve been looking so far and then now this championship. I don’t know who’s going to stop us,” Jantz said.