File Photo: Blake Wood/

VERNON, Texas — The Gunter Tigers will have a chance to defend their crown. The Tigers ran for 284 yards and did not throw a single pass en route to a 56-27 win over the Canadian Wildcats in a Class 3A Division II state semifinals to extend their winning streak to 31 games.

Things did not start swimmingly for the defending state champs, however. The Tigers fumbled their opening drive and Canadian converted with a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Casen Cavalier to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead early.

Gunter quarterback Daylan Bower ran for four touchdowns in the state semifinal win over Canadian. (File Photo: Lauren Landes/TexasHSFootball

Even after that early setback, the Tigers responded by playing to their strengths by running the football. This time, the game turned into the Daylan Bower show. The senior quarterback ran for three touchdowns in the first half from one, two and one yards respectively to give the Tigers the lead at 21-7 in the second quarter.

“I’m just really proud of the way our kids responded,” Gunter Head Coach Jake Fieszel said after the game, “They showed a lot of resiliency out there after we dug ourselves in a hole early.”

Just when Canadian looked to be on the comeback trail, Braiden Clopton snatched away the Wildcats hope for a response. The junior cornerback jumped in front of a Cavalier pass and returned it 55 yards for a score and a 28-7 lead. Clopton would add a five-yard rushing touchdown thanks to a Wildcat fumble.

Canadian would add another two-yard run from Cavalier to cut the deficit to 35-14 at the half.

“They (Daylan and Brayden) have just been doing what they’ve done all year,” Fieszel said, “Everyone just ran the ball so hard and they did a fantastic job. It all goes back the offensive line though. They did a fantastic job tonight.”

Gunter cornerback/wide receiver Braiden Clopton added two rushing touchdowns and an interception for a score in the state semifinal win over Canadian. (Blake Wood/TexasHSFootball)

Gunter took firm control of the game on their opening drive in the third quarter as Bower would add a fourth rushing touchdown from two yards out on a drive that took nearly seven minutes.

Canadian would add two touchdowns in the second half through the air by Cavalier: a 35-yarder to Garrison McCook in the third quarter and a four-yard pass to Trent Evans in the fourth.

However, the night was all about the Tigers pounding the rock. Clopton would add another rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter while Dylan Jantz capped off the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run in the late stages of the game. The Tigers gained 284 yards of offense on the ground. It’s all they needed as they will now have a chance to defend their title.

“We’re going to enjoy this win tonight,” Fieszel said, “We’ll start preparing for Newton and we know they’re a fantastic team who are well-coached and have great athletes. We’ll have to be ready for them.”

Gunter will face Newton (15-0) in the Class 3A Division II state championship at 7 p.m. CST next Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Canadian ends their season at 14-1.

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