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Burke County too much for Gainesville, 63-28
Gainesville High's Devan Stringer sits on the sidelines Friday after the Red Elephants lost the state Class AAA semifinal game to Burke County High School at City Park Stadium. Gainesville lost 63-28. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller already knew Burke County had a running game with elite speed from watching game film before Friday's state semifinal game at City Park Stadium.

And the video certainly painted an accurate picture of what the Bears (13-1) did best.

Burke County rushed for 505 yards, and had four different running backs score a touchdown in a 63-28 win against the Red Elephants (12-2) in Gainesville. With the loss, the Red Elephants season is now complete.

"They were just flat out better than us tonight," said Miller. "They brought it to us all night."

Even though Gainesville led after quarterback Deshaun Watson's 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game, Burke County answered immediately with its own 83-yard score on the ensuing kickoff by Donquell Green.

After that, the Red Elephants never re-gained the momentum as Burke County scored three touchdowns in each of the first three quarters.

The Bears gained all of its offense on the ground with three different backs topping 100 yards.

"We've been running back by committee all season and just had a bunch of guys with good stats, but not great," Burke County coach Eric Parker said. "But we had a great week of practice and I had a feeling we were going to play well."

Even with the loss, the Red Elephants made it further than anyone could have imagined this season.

Gainesville has played in the state semifinals in two of the past three season before jumping up to Class AAAAA next season.

"We have no reason to hang our heads at all," Miller said. "I'm just as proud as I could be for this team.
"Sometimes things just don't go your way and that's what happened tonight."

Watson, a sophomore, finished with another solid outing with two touchdown runs and a pair of touchdown passes to junior Caleb Hayman, who quickly emerged in the postseason as a player to watch for next season.

Gainesville's quarterback finished the game with 143 rushing yards and 249 passing. For the season, Watson topped 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing and drew the praise of Gainesville's visiting coach along the way Friday night.

"Watson is one heck of a player," Parker said. "People are going to have to deal with facing him for another two seasons."

For the second week in a row, Hayman stepped up big and finished with a team-high nine catches for 123 yards.

He hauled in a 25-yard pass from Watson in the back of the end zone on a fourth and 6 with only 12 seconds remaining in the first half. His other touchdown was from 6 yards early in the fourth quarter.

Still, it was impossible to counter the breakaway speed of Burke County tailbacks Montres Kitchens (11 carries, 157 yards), Green (12 carries, 119 yards) and its senior quarterback Corey Mayton (114 yards, one touchdown).

Tied 7-7 in the first quarter, Burke County went to work on a 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that chewed up more than three minutes off the clock before Kitchens scored on a run from the 2.

After that, Burke County started scoring in a hurry.

The Bears' next drive took just two plays and Green scored on a run from the 20.

In the second quarter, Orlando Howard hurdled a Gainesville defender for a gain of 24, followed by a gain of 24 by Mayton on a keeper.

Kitchens scored on the next play on a run from the 3 when he broke the tackle of three defenders.

Leading 41-21 at halftime, Burke County put the game away in the third quarter with a 37-yard score from Green and a 55-yard touchdown run by Kitchens only four minutes apart.

With the win, the Bears face Peach County for the Class AAA state title at 4 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Georgia Dome.

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