4A Division II UIL Football State Championship Preview: Gilmer (12-3) vs. Bellville (15-0)

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Gilmer (12-3) vs. Bellville (15-0), 3 p.m. Friday at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium

Red hot Gilmer doesn’t come into this title game with Bellville’s gaudy record, but the Buckeyes will arrive in Arlington brimming with confidence. There was no sign of a “Carthage hangover” in a dominant 79-42 win over Glen Rose Friday night. Gilmer raced out to a 42-7 lead early in the second quarter and simply held the desperate Tigers at bay the rest of the evening.

RB Will Henderson, the 4A boys 100-meter champion, can get it done with the pads on as well as he ran for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Gilmer’s defense picked off three passes and also got a kickoff return touchdown in the lopsided victory.

Bellville truly got tested for the first time this season and needed a late two point conversion stop to escape Wimberley in a 35-33 classic down in Pflugerville.

RB DD Murray ran for two touchdowns and also had a key end zone interception to lead Bellville, while monster DL D.J. Sanders had a strip and score touchdown for Bellville’s defense early in the game.

Bellville’s defense had been nearly perfect all season long, but did Wimberley give a blueprint on how to slow the Brahmas down a little?

The big concern for Gilmer has to be its defense, which has been better during this nine game winning streak, but they are far from lockdown and Bellville’s Slot-T offense is absolutely lethal. I’m sticking with defense and the running game of Bellville in this one. 

Stepp’s Pick: Bellville by 10 




DL DJ Sanders - When it comes to dominant defensive linemen in the state, any list has to include DJ Sanders. Bellville’s dominating interior lineman has 14 sacks and 88 total tackles as he mans the inside of the defensive line. Gilmer has to key in on the four-star prospect.

RB Sam Hranicky - He’s the go-to dive-man in Bellville’s deadly Slot-T offense. The leading rusher for the Brahmas has 195 yards on the ground with 23 touchdowns. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed of his backfield counterpart, DD Murray but he’ll make defenses hurt for four quarters with his physical runs up the middle. 

RB DD Murray - Bellville’s slot back is the lightning to Hranicky’s thunder in the run game with 1,991 yards and 36 touchdowns. The Brahmas love to use Murray around the edge in the Slot-T to give defenses another look just when they key in on the run game between the tackles.


QB Cadon Tennison - The last time Gilmer was in AT&T, Cad0n’s brother, Brandon, quarterbacked the Buckeyes but now the younger Tennison’s dual-threat ability will be key in making Bellville’s vaunted defense play fast to keep up. He has over 2,400 yards through the air and over 500 rushing yards.

RB Will Henderson - Gilmer’s 2,500-yard rusher is another massive reason why the Buckeyes are back at state. He’s averaged nearly a first down per carry and will give Bellville’s gifted front seven a big test with his ability to get to the edge and take the ball up the middle. He’s also a receiving threat with nearly 400 yards on the season.

LB Eliez Castillo - You could’ve also listed Gilmer’s bigs, Kadyn Brown and Tyler Hagler here, but when facing a Slot-T the middle linebacker position is one of the most important for a defense. Castillo will often find himself having to make big decisions in terms of crashing down in the run game and his choices could be the difference between touchdowns and tackles for loss.

Ishmael Johnson



Bellville DL DJ Sanders vs. Gilmer OG Lucas Cano - If you haven’t heard about DJ Sanders, you will come Friday. The junior defensive tackle has compiled offers from Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, and he’s playing like it in the 2023 TXHSFB playoffs. But Gilmer is averaging 54 points a game in the playoffs behind the paths opened by guard Lucas Cano. The junior has two offers from SMU and Incarnate Word and should have plenty more fly in after the season concludes. Both these guys can rotate among any position on the line of scrimmage, so expect to see them competing one-on-one in Arlington.

Bellville RB DD Murray vs. Gilmer LBs Eliez Castillo and Aron Bell - Bellville’s Slot-T offense leans on DD Murray, a 5-foot-9-inch, 187-pound running back who’s run wild in this playoffs. He’s a home-run threat from the wing back position with great vision and the speed to take it the distance. Bellville’s offensive line will give him holes to reach the second-level, which means Gilmer LBs Castillo and Bell will be tasked with keeping the three-yard gain from becoming a 70-yard home run. 

Carter Yates






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