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Gainesville falls to Tucker, 20-14, ending repeat title bid

Watson pressured, intercepted four times as Tigers' defense, running game prevails

POSTED: December 6, 2013 11:15 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Gainesville High's Jay Gaudlock finds running room after a catch Friday night during the first half of the Red Elephants' Class AAAAA state semifinal game against Tucker High at James R. Hallford Stadium in Clarkston.

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CLARKSTON — Gainesville stood toe to toe with Tucker for most of the night in the Class AAAAA state semifinals on Friday at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston. What kept it close was the Red Elephants’ remarkable defense for most of the night against the Tigers’ vaunted running game.

However, with a driving rainstorm moving into DeKalb County late in the fourth quarter, it also signaled the end to Gainesville hopes of defending its state championship. With 2:32 left to play, Tucker’s Dominick Sanders punched it in for the score from the 5 to hand the Red Elephants a 20-14 loss.

“I’m very proud of how we played defensively and offensively,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “I think we took advantage of some things we needed to, just didn’t make the big plays when we needed them most.”

With the win, Tucker faces Creekside for the Class AAAAA state championship at 8:30 Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Gainesville’s season ends with a 12-2 record. The loss for No. 3 Gainesville doesn’t take away from a great campaign and its third consecutive trip to the state semifinals.

“I’m very proud of this team and all the hard work we put into the season,” said Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, who finished the game 23 of 37 passing for 185 yards. “We just couldn’t pull it out at the end, and that happens sometimes.

“But I love Gainesville and all the hard work we put into this.”

Gainesville did its best work early in the game, building a 14-0 lead with 12 minutes left before halftime.

Though Tucker (14-0) trailed by two touchdowns, it started to clamp down on defense and limited the opportunities for Watson and his explosive offense in the second half.

Watson, the state’s all-time leading passer, threw four interceptions against the Tigers’ athletic secondary. Tucker had an aggressive defensive line and linebacking unit, which resulted in the Red Elephants’ quarterback having less time to make plays. He also was sacked four times.

Tied 14-14 with 5:17 left to play and driving rain and wind whipping through the stadium, Gainesville started to move the ball with its most effective offensive tool all night: the short-passing game.

The drive opened with a 4-yard pass to Rodney Lackey, followed by an 11-yard strike to senior Chastin Newman and 7-yard completion to senior Jay Gaudlock. However, on a key third-and-5 play that followed, Watson was stopped for a short gain to draw the punt.

Gaudlock led the Gainesville receivers with seven catches for 57 yards, while Newman had 50 receiving yards.

Watson finished with 63 rushing yards.

Tucker’s go-ahead drive was slow and methodical with the running game, since passing was almost out of the question given the weather conditions. Tigers quarterback Joseph Farrar worked the option effectively, with the help of running backs Sanders and Elijah Sullivan.

It was one of the few times in the game Gainesville didn’t have the upper hand against the Tucker running game. For the night, Gainesville did an outstanding job of stuffing the run, allowing just 132 yards on the ground to the state’s top-ranked team.

“I thought our defense played absolutely great, except for a couple of drives,” Miller said.

Trailing for most of the night, Tucker finally knotted the score at 14-14 with Sanders’ 37-yard touchdown grab from Farrar. Sanders set up the drive on third-and-6 three plays prior to the touchdown grab with a 46-yard reception along the sideline.

Sanders finished the game with three catches for 93 yards. Farrar completed 8 of 12 throws for 140 yards.

The Red Elephants owned the first half offensively with Watson’s 9-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter to go up 7-0. In the second quarter, Gaudlock hauled in a Watson pass on fourth down from the 26 for the touchdown to go ahead 14-0.

Gainesville took possession for its second touchdown after Tucker’s Nekyle Lundie fumbled the ball after an 11-yard grab, which was recovered by Red Elephants linebacker Brenquez Dukes.

After starting the drive at the Tigers 27 and an 8-yard pass to Orrin Ragland, the drive moved back to its original starting point after Watson was sacked.

On the touchdown throw, it looked like Watson had overshot Gaudlock. The Red Elephants’ receiver extended fully in the air and reached his arm to catch the ball and bring the ball back to his body for the touchdown catch.

Gainesville had 193 yards of offense in the opening half, but only converted on one of three trips inside the Tucker 10.

“I thought that hurt us; we didn’t make the plays we needed to capitalize,” Miller said. “But our team kept fighting and fighting all night long.

“I’m so proud of these guys for a great season.”

Gainesville’s first drive ended when Tucker’s Yarquis Shelley intercepted a pass in the back of the end zone.

Tucker had just 82 yards of offense in the opening half. Its lone first-half score when University of Georgia commit Detric Dukes caught a 9-yard pass from Farrar.

The Tigers’ touchdown drive was on its only trip inside Gainesville territory after a 65–yard punt return by junior Yarquis Shelly down to the Gainesville 19.



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