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Gainesville breezes past West Forsyth, 58-28

Red Elephants open title defense with big offensive showing

POSTED: August 30, 2013 11:55 p.m.

CUMMING — Devan Stringer provided Gainesville just the defensive lift it needed in its season opener against West Forsyth. Leading late in the second quarter Friday night, the Red Elephants’ senior linebacker picked off a Hampton McConnell pass in West Forsyth territory.

Gainesville scored three plays later on senior quarterback Deshaun Watson’s third touchdown pass of the game  an 8-yard strike to junior Chris Williamson  and the top-ranked Red Elephants went on for a 58-28 victory.

“That interception certainly turned the momentum because it seemed like it was the team that had the ball last was going to win,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “It certainly turned the momentum in the game.”

After that pivotal interception, Gainesville (1-0) kept West Forsyth off the scoreboard the entire third quarter. Never in the entire game did the Red Elephants offense struggle for too long.

“I’m so proud of our team,” Stringer said. “That turnover swung the momentum, but it was all about the team effort.”

Led by an outstanding night from receiver Jay Gaudlock (10 catches, 178 yards) and  runningback Michael Byrd (89 yards, three touchdowns), Gainesville’s offense looks to be in fine shape after graduating some big pieces from the 2012 state champ squad.

“This feels great to come out and win the first game,” said Watson, who threw for 362 yards and had five touchdowns. “I’m very proud of how the entire team played.”

Watson, the state’s all-time leading passer, had little trouble keeping the ball problem moving the ball down field in the opening half. However, the Wolverines’ talented junior quarterback McConnell kept West Forsyth (0-1) in the ball game with some great passes and consistent run plays. McConnell finished the night with 106 rushing yards, 113 passing.

Miller said West Forsyth’s junior quarterback, and its entire hybrid spread offense for that matter, was as good as advertised.

“The thing is, you can run against a scout team all you want for an offense like they have, but it’s not the same as seeing it in a real game,” Miller said.

McConnell put West Forsyth up early with a scoring run from the 12 early in the first quarter, then hit Ryan Miller on a fourth-and-1 pass in the back of the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown strike to go up 14-3.

“We knew after they scored on their first three possessions that we were going to have to bow up and get a stop,” said Stringer, an Appalachian State University pledge.

However, when Watson got settled and in a groove in the second quarter, he was impossible to rattle. A perfectly placed pass along the sideline to Orrin Ragland went for a 39-yard touchdown with just 2:52 left in the opening half and put the Red Elephants ahead for the first time at 24-21.

West Forsyth led 14-3 after McConnell’s touchdown strike to Miller, but Watson responded for the Red Elephants with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Gaudlock to keep them within a touchdown. Watson passed for 240 yards in the opening half and completed passes to seven Gainesville receivers.

Byrd added a 7-yard running score for Gainesville in the opening half, while he scored on a 3-yard scamper in the third quarter. He finished the game as the Red Elephants’ leading rusher with 89 yards.

In addition to his great night passing, Watson also ran it in on a play from the West 1-yard line in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, backup Red Elephants quarterback Mikey Gonzalez had a 59-yard touchdown pass to Josh Holderfield.

According to Watson, this marked the first time Gainesville won a season-opening game since his eighth-grade year in 2009.

“Winning this game tonight is great for our confidence, but we have to work hard to be ready to face Buford next week,” Watson said.

Gainesville plays host to Buford on Friday at City Park Stadium, while West Forsyth visits Flowery Branch in South Hall.


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