HUNTSVILLE - Cuero quarterback Tyler Arndt was almost on his back when he threw the final pass of his high school career.
Arndt escaped a sack attempt and lofted the ball toward the back of the end zone as he fell to the ground, but there was no receiver to make the catch.
The ball fell to the turf and took Cuero's hopes for a state final appearance with it, as top-ranked Gilmer escaped with a 42-36 Class 3A, Division I semifinal win on Saturday night at Bowers Field.
"We showed tonight that we can hang with one of the best," Arndt said. "Gilmer, they have a great team. They're going to try and keep that No. 1 ranking next week and we wish them all the luck."
The Buckeyes improved to 14-0 and advanced to the state final against Abilene Wylie, a 31-27 winner over Lucas Lovejoy on Saturday night.
The Gobblers were making their fifth semifinal appearance in the last six years, but came up five yards short in their attempt to reach the state final for the 11th time in school history and finished the season at 13-1.
"This is a tough one because these kids hung together so well and played so hard," Cuero coach Mark Reeve said. "They had a great team, but we were right there with them."
Cuero and Gilmer went back and forth at each other. The lead changed hands seven times and the teams were virtually even in total yards.
"We knew it was going to be an offensive battle," Arndt said. "It was really back and forth. We came out really well. We came out ready to play; that's what we really wanted. We stuck around and hung in the ballgame. We played the whole second half and, unfortunately, came up short."
The Gobblers had a chance to win when Arndt's 41-yard pass to Monte Green set them up at the Gilmer 10 with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter.
"We wanted it in our offensive hand and it's been huge for us all year," Arndt said. "Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short. We put up a good effort."
Trent Jackson gained 5 yards on first down before being stopped for no gain on second down when Gilmer used its final timeout with 50 second remaining.
"We thought we had it," Jackson said. "They had a great team and we hung with them all the way. We just came up a little bit short."
Arndt's third-down pass to tight end Tanner Hoffman was knocked down in the end zone by a Gilmer defender, leaving the Gobblers with one play.
"We tried to overload one side and get Tanner and (Andrew) Thibodeaux to one side," Arndt said. "We sent Tanner out thinking Thibodeaux might be open. I kind of saw off the line, that they didn't give us much. I had to kind of chunk it up and hope that somebody came up with it and nobody did."
Jackson did his best to help Cuero spring the upset. He carried 18 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before finishing with 30 carries for 215 yards.
"I had no idea I was going to run that much," said Jackson, who finished his sophomore year with a school-record 2,526 yards and 33 touchdowns. "My offensive line opened holes and there were some opportunities there for me tonight."
The Gobblers took leads of 13-0 and 20-7 lead after an interception by Ryan Barrientez, a fumble recovery by Tommy Longoria and Barrientez's recovery of a muffed punt.
But Cuero couldn't contain Gilmer quarterback Darian Godfrey.
Godfrey rushed for 152 yards and five touchdowns and threw for 166 yards and one touchdown. Godfrey had the decisive score on a 68-yard touchdown run on a third-and-10 scramble with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter.
"Their quarterback is just a super athlete," Reeve said. "We tried just about everything to stop him, but he was just too good."
The Gobblers were good enough to make the semifinals with only three starters back on offense and one on defense.
"This is a special group of kids," Reeve said. "When you look at where these kids came from at the beginning of the year, I'm really proud for them."
TURNOVER BATTLE: Gilmer turned the ball over twice and had a muffed punt that each resulted in a Cuero touchdown. But the Buckeyes recovered an onside kick and converted a 24-yard pass and a fourth-and-four play to set up scores.
PASSING GAME: Arndt completed 14 of 27 passes for 178 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Green. Arndt finished his senior season with 2,379 yards passing and 27 touchdowns.
CLOSE ALL THE WAY: Cuero had 232 yards rushing and 178 yards passing for 410 total yards. Gilmer had 241 yards rushing and 166 yards passing for 407 yards.
STILL TIED: Cuero and Brownwood share the most wins by a Class 3A program with 645.