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Gainesville defense denies ML King in 28-14 win

Red Elephants survive, play host to South Paulding in 2nd round

POSTED: November 15, 2013 11:40 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Gainesville High quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Red Elephant offense get set to run a play in the pouring rain Friday night at City Park Stadium during their first-round state playoff game against MLK High.

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Gainesville coach Bruce Miller wasted little time congratulating his defense for a job well done after it held on for a 28-14 victory against M.L. King and the big passing arm of its quarterback, Roland Rivers, on Friday at City Park Stadium.

It took everything the Red Elephants’ defense had to survive in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs, specifically an interception return for a touchdown and two huge goal line stands on a rainy Friday to open the Class AAAAA state playoffs in Gainesville.

“I thought our defense was fantastic,” Miller said. “They played their fannies off all night.”

With the win, the defending state champion Red Elephants (10-1) advance to face South Paulding — a 48-21 winner against Sequoyah — in the second round Friday in Gainesville.

“That’s two weeks in a row we had to hold on in the fourth quarter,” said Miller, referring to a 55-45 region championship win against Flowery Branch on Nov. 8. “But the name of the game in the playoffs is to survive and advance.

“We did what we had to do to win and move on.”

The first half was marked by two big defensive plays as Gainesville rushed to a 21-0 lead going into halftime. M.L. King ran the ball 17 times and 79 yards down the field on the game’s first drive, only to be stopped short on a fourth and goal run from the 1.

After a scoreless first quarter, the third-ranked Red Elephants’ senior linebacker Devan Stringer, an Appalachian State University signee, picked off an underthrown Rivers (18 completions, 252 yards; two touchdown runs) pass in the middle of the field and went 54 yards behind a wall of blockers for the touchdown.

Stringer’s interception return gave Gainesville a 7-0 lead and helped it build some momentum after struggling on the offensive side of the ball early in the game.

“It felt wonderful to be able to make a big play like that,” Stringer said. “I was in the right place at the right time and my teammates did a great job of setting up the blocks.

“All the praise goes to my teammates for the way they played all night.”

The Red Elephants needed the big defensive stands, including another fourth-down stand at the 1 on a run up the middle in the fourth quarter, as Gainesville’s normally strong passing game struggled to get anything going all night. Miller says that the rain didn’t impact the game plan led the state’s all-time leading passer, Deshaun Watson, but the weather may have gotten in his players’ heads.

Instead, Watson had a great night running the ball with 21 carries for 163 yards and two touchdown runs.

“We knew M.L. King was going to be tough and they fought hard out there,” said Watson, who signed officially with Clemson University on Thursday. “We tried to throw it early and were struggling, so we switched it and started running the ball more.”

Gainesville needed every bit of effort from its defense and tough running by Watson to sustain victory. Leading 28-0 after a 35-yard touchdown run from Watson on fourth and 2 late in the third quarter, the Lions’ passing game started to catch fire.

After a pair of long completions from Rivers to Romello Shumake (eight catches, 143 yards), M.L. King’s quarterback punched it in on a run from the 1.

Rivers scored again for M.L. King on a run from the 4 following a Red Elephant turnover midway through the final period to make the score 28-14, then made it even more suspenseful by recovering the ensuing onside kick.

Rivers went to the air immediately down by two scores with a 14-yard throw to Savion Thrash and a 38-yard completion to Devin Williams. On fourth-and-10 from the 25, Rivers kept the drive alive with a gritty 14-yard run down the sideline.

However, the Red Elephants were spared four plays later when Rivers threw on fourth-and-6 with a pass that was completed to an ineligible lineman downfield, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Stringer says surviving some adversity will prove beneficial as the postseason moves along.

“We just had to keep our head down and kept fighting,” Stringer said. “It feels awesome to come out on top of a tough game like this.”

Leading 7-0 in the second quarter, Watson had a hand in both of its next two touchdowns before halftime. First, he kept in on a run from the goal line and scored from the 1 to go up 14-0 with 5:17 left before halftime. Then on Gainesville’s next drive, backup quarterback Mikey Gonzalez found Watson in the end zone for a touchdown throw from the 5 facing fourth-and-1.

Gainesville finished the game with only 23 passing yards.

With the loss, M.L. King’s season is finished with a 7-4 record.



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