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Loss doesn't define Red Elephants' magnificent run

POSTED: December 6, 2013 11:34 p.m.

CLARKSTON – It shouldn’t have ended this way.

Not in heavy winds and pouring rain. Not with a costly interception on the final drive. Not one game short of the Georgia Dome.

Unfortunately, it did. And all that remains now is the legacy left behind by Gainesville’s football team.

And is it ever a good one.

The Red Elephants’ 20-14 loss to Tucker in the Class AAAAA state semifinals shouldn’t mask Gainesville’s tremendous accomplishments throughout the 2013 season.

This team shrugged off an ugly early-season loss and won eight straight games on the way to a Region 8-AAAAA title, an honor they narrowly missed a season ago.

Gainesville figured out a way to bruise through tough playoff adversity, from passing woes against M.L. King to turnover issues against Mundy’s Mill. No matter the setback, Bruce Miller and his staff seemingly discovered a way around it.

And they almost did it again Friday, against the No. 1 Class AAAAA team in Georgia.

Had it not been for Tucker’s go-ahead touchdown run with 2:22 remaining, the Red Elephants might be talking about playing Creekside next week in the Georgia Dome.

Or if they had one less turnover. Or even if the rain had stopped sooner.

But talking what-ifs doesn’t do this team justice.

Gainesville ends its 2013 campaign with a 12-2 record, marking its sixth consecutive season with 10 or more wins.

The Red Elephants scored 655 points on the season, good for fifth all-time in state history.

Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson wraps up his senior season with 3,775 passing yards, 1,057 rushing yards and 63 all-purpose touchdowns.

As he turns in the No. 4 jersey for a Clemson threads in 2014, he’ll take with him the honor of being Georgia’s all-time leading passer with 13,077 yards. He made 217 Gainesville trips to the end zone possible.

Running back Michael Byrd eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season, thriving on the ground despite playing in a pass-first offense that features a dual-threat quarterback.

Watson’s favorite target, running back-turned-wideout Jay Gaudlock, became one of the state’s leading receivers with 1,276 yards.

Gainesville had four defenders finish the season with more than 100 tackles. That same defense held a top-ranked team to 82 yards in the first half Friday night.

It’s not fair to judge this team by one loss.

Yes, the Red Elephants were held to 248 yards, when their average entering the game was nearly 500.

Yes, they were held to 63 rushing yards on 26 carries, their lowest ground output this season.

Yes, Watson threw a season-high four interceptions, the last on Gainesville’s final drive.

And yes, this team is still one of the best in Georgia, and one of the very best Hall County has ever produced.

The Red Elephants won’t be able to win a second straight state championship, but put them in the Georgia Dome anyway, and they’re still likely to pull out a victory. Tucker should be a favorite to win it all, and Gainesville still nearly came out on top.

All that changed that was the last 2:22 of the game, when the Tigers proved they could handle the elements just a hair better.

Rain-soaked and battered, both emotionally and physically, Red Elephant players slowly walked off the field at Hallford Stadium, the state championship just out of their grasp.

They surely don’t feel like winners now, but their accomplishments say otherwise.

Gainesville deserved a different ending than this.

Mitch Blomert is a Times sports writer.


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