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Red Elephants find a new weapon in 41-0 win over West Hall

Byrd rushes for 211, 2 TDs, prepare for region title game

POSTED: October 28, 2011 11:41 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

West Hall quarterback Chandler Newton is taken down by Gainesville's Joseph Funk during Friday's game at Spartans Stadium.

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When Gainesville High freshman Michael Byrd got plugged into the starting lineup for Friday's game against West Hall, he knew he didn't want to squander a chance to catch the coaches eyes.

After his outing in Oakwood, he might just be the new starter for the Red Elephants in the backfield.

Byrd scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 61 yards in the first quarter and finished the game with 211 yards, all in the first half, and a 41-0 Gainesville win.

"It felt great to have a good game," Byrd, who had played sparingly in reserve previously this season. "When I got the chance to start, it was something I wanted to show what I could do."

Gainesville finished the game with a season-high 378 rushing yards and 439 yards of total offense.

With the win, Gainesville (8-1, 5-0 Region 8-AAA South) faces Stephens County (8-1, 5-0 Region 8-AAA North) for the region championship and No. 1 seed to the playoffs on Friday at City Park. The loser will get the No. 2 seed and still open the state playoffs at home Nov. 11.

Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller certainly appreciated Byrd's effort given the rainy conditions and slick field. Gainesville scaled down on passing the ball late in the first half after five dropped passes and a number of times overthrowing open receivers.

"Michael did a great job," Miller said. "When faced with the situation with the bad weather and trouble passing, he stepped up big."

With weather especially damaging to try and run a spread offense, Byrd got plenty of chance to show what he could do. His first run of the game went for 14 yards, setting up his own touchdown from the goal line seven plays later.

However, his most impressive string of plays were midway through the second quarter when on three consecutive plays he rushed for 22, 17 and 13 yards.

"He's a phenomenal freshman," said Red Elephants junior receiver Lahius Leverette, who finished that drive with a 3-yard touchdown catch. "He did big things for us tonight."

Before halftime, Byrd popped a 32-yard run, which turned out to be his final run attempt of the night. Then on the next play, Gainesville senior Stephen Mason caught a 23-yard touchdown pass on his knees from sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The Red Elephants only success passing was primarily in the short throws in the second quarter. On a reverse play early in the second quarter, junior receiver Tray Harrison connected with quarterback Deshaun Watson for a 2-yard touchdown pass.

Watson only completed 6 of 17 pass attempts, but was more of a threat running the ball. On Gainesville's first drive and going for it on fourth and 1 at the West Hall 26, Gainesville's quarterback ran straight through the line of scrimmage for a gain of 25. Then on the Red Elephants' next drive, he ran for 11 on a fourth-and-2.

"I feel like if we can get it down to a couple yards on fourth down, we have a pretty good chance of making it," Miller said. "But at the same time, we don't want to put our defense in a bad situation."

The Red Elephants converted on all five fourth-down attempts in the first half. Facing fourth-and-7 on its first second quarter drive, junior Tray Harrison ran for 21.

Miller also knew his defense was up for the challenge Friday night against a talented Spartans (2-7, 2-3 Region 8-AAA South) offense. The Red Elephants defense held West Hall to only 89 yards of offense.

Rico Jones was the leading rusher for West Hall with 15 carries for 58 yards.

West Hall hosts Lumpkin County (5-4, 2-3) Friday at Spartans Stadium.



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