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Murphy: Gainesville getting it done on offense and defense

POSTED: September 19, 2011 12:45 a.m.

It all makes sense now why Gainesville coach Bruce Miller didn't seem concerned or worried after his program lost 49-0 in Week 1 against Class AA's top-ranked Buford (5-0).

He knew after spending all summer with the Red Elephants (2-1) the potential of the defending Region 8-AAA champs was still high, even though they took one on the chin to open the season.

Now just a couple of weeks after that dismal season opener, Miller's lack of concern that steamy night at Tom Riden Stadium all now makes perfect sense.

After blowout wins against White County and North Hall, the Red Elephants may once again be the team to beat for the region crown.

It's looking more and more likely that Gainesville will face Stephens County (3-1) for the region championship on Nov. 4 at City Park.

However, the key to Gainesville's success with a great defense may be a bit overshadowed by its offensive numbers.

Of course, Deshaun Watson is an amazing quarterback for the Red Elephants. By now, everyone that is paying attention has heard about his eight touchdowns (five passing, three rushing) last Friday against North Hall.

I don't think it's too big of a stretch to say Watson, only a sophomore, has the potential to go down as the greatest high school quarterback in Hall County history, if he keeps developing at this pace.

But Gainesville's defense is pulling its own weight. Against the Trojans, Gainesville held them to only about 200 rushing yards, and senior running back Imani Cross, who will be playing at the University of Tennessee next year, was limited to 125.

Even though the Big Red came into the season with all of the 2010 defensive leaders graduated, most notably linebacker A.J. Johnson and lineman Thomas Niles, it looks like they are playing with some swagger and confidence with a bunch of fresh faces.

Gainesville swarms to the football against the run on defense. And the Red Elephants have a tremendously athletic secondary that doesn't give up big pass plays.

Safety Fred Payne, a junior, was the biggest holdover from last season on defense for Gainesville, and he's proved to be just the leader that Miller envisioned him being.

Against the Trojans, Gainesville didn't allow North Hall to open up any passing game, improving on its average of 36 passing yards allowed per game.

And with a struggling subregion, the Red Elephants now look like a lock to earn the No. 1 seed and spot in the region title game.

The biggest challenge left for Gainesville on the regular season schedule is Oct. 14 against Monroe Area (2-1).

Fortunately for the Red Elephants, this year's game is at Bobby Gruhn Field, and the Purple Hurricanes don't quite have the same caliber of talent as in 2010.

I've also heard that Walnut Grove (1-2) is much improved, but as new as its program is, it will be a number of years before the Warriors will be able to build up an equitable talent base.

Gainesville's going to continue to put up big offensive numbers the rest of the season. But don't forget about the defense.

Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com.



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