Graham has a strong football tradition at the Class 3A level, having qualified for the playoffs in 12 of the past 14 seasons.
But it's difficult to top the pedigree of the Steers' state semifinal opponent.
Gilmer (13-1) has won two 3A state championships since 2004 and also appeared in another title game. The Buckeyes have reached at least 10 wins in nine of the past 10 seasons.
"We've won a lot of football games for a long time," said Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor, who has been the head coach at his alma mater for the past 13 years. "The kids know expectations are high."
Gilmer earned its spot in Friday's Division II semifinal against the
Steers at Mansfield's Newsom Stadium with a 41-34 comeback victory over fellow 16-3A foe Henderson. The Buckeyes erased a 17-point deficit in that regional final.
"We've kind of been like that all year long to be honest," Traylor said. "We've been down in a lot of ballgames, but the kids kept believing and found a way to win."
Gilmer returned seven defensive starters, including SMU commit Trey Washington at safety, from last year's run to the state quarterfinals. The Buckeyes have another Division I commit — junior linebacker Josh Walker, who has pledged to Texas A&M.
But the Buckeyes' offense returned only two starters from 2011, and Traylor said the defense carried his squad for the first half of the season.
The statistics back up that claim. In its first seven games before a bye, Gilmer averaged 31.3 points. That number increased to 46.7 points per game in the last seven games.
Junior quarterback Tanner Barr has thrown for 2,697 yards and 22 touchdowns in the Buckeyes' spread offense. All four receivers have at least 29 catches, but his top target is sophomore Chase Tate (55-481-3).
In fact, Gilmer also depends heavily on sophomores Kris Boyd (1,175 yards, 17 TDs) and Jamel Jackson (585 yards, eight TDs) in its three-man tailback rotation.
"In my 13 years here, I don't remember starting a sophomore on offense," Traylor said. "I might be missing somebody, but we've never used anybody to the extent that we have those guys this year."
Gilmer is the final team standing from its district after Kilgore and Henderson lost last week. Kilgore, which was the 16-3A runner-up after a 20-14 loss to Gilmer in Week 10, was knocked out by Stephenville in the 3A Division I semifinals.
The Buckeyes' lone loss was to Plano Prestonwood in the second game of the season, 42-12.
"They just whipped us pretty good. We weren't a very good team back then," Traylor said. "We got a dose of humble pie, and that's good for you occasionally."
The Buckeyes will be vying for their fifth title game appearance in school history. Gilmer won the 2004 3A Division II title over Jasper, 49-47, and also the 3A Division I championship over Abilene Wylie, 43-26.
Liberty Hill defeated Traylor's 2007 Gilmer team in the 3A Division I finale, 38-13. Gilmer also lost the 1981 3A championship game to Cameron, 26-3.