Red Elephants 20, Red Devils 7
Difference maker: Gainesville’s Michael Byrd was its most efficient on offense, carrying the ball 22 times for 119 yards.
Stat that matters: The Red Elephants scored 13 points off of first-half Loganville turnovers.
Turning point: Gainesville’s Chandler Staton knocked through a 37-yard field goal, his first of two successful tries on the night, on the final play of the first quarter to take a 10-0 lead.
Who’s next: Gainesville visits Flowery Branch on Friday; Loganville hosts Clarke Central in Loganville.
When Gainesville needed a lift late in Friday’s contest against Loganville, hard-hitting defensive back Toddrick Turner was more than happy to oblige.
Hustling after his teammate Chris Lyle deflected the pass from Red Devils quarterback Jadon McClendon, Turner dove and cradled the interception with his right arm for the Red Elephants to close out their stellar defensive showing and 20-7 win at City Park Stadium.
“That’s the best feeling in the world to make a big play when my team needs it,” said Turner.
Even though Gainesville (7-2, 7-1 Region 8-AAAAA) had a substantial lead for most of the night, Loganville made it close after Michael Elder’s 3-yard run with 7:38 left in the game. Still with a 20-7 lead and Loganville driving, Lyles and Turner were able to come through with a big play for the Red Elephants’ defensive unit that pulled in four interceptions and allowed only 112 yards of offense.
Linebacker J.D. Sosebee returned an interception for a touchdown that was brought back after a block in the back after the change of possession.
Seniors Chris Williamson and Antonio Wade each came away with first-half interceptions for Gainesville’s defense.
“Our offense wasn’t pretty tonight, and we didn’t play that well in the second half, but the defense managed to make some plays,” said Gainesville coach Bruce Miller.
With Gainesville’s victory, combined with Salem and Winder-Barrow losses, the Red Elephants have locked up the No. 2 seed for the postseason, and a home playoff game on Nov. 14 at City Park Stadium. But first is Gainesville’s most intense region rival — and typically a shootout of a game — against Flowery Branch to wrap up the regular season Friday at Falcons Field.
The Falcons are still mathematically alive (5-4, 4-4) but would have to beat Gainesville, along with a Salem (5-4, 5-3) loss to Cedar Shoals (0-9). On Friday, Flowery Branch upset Salem 7-6 in Conyers.
Gainesville’s players are taking nothing for granted with regards to Flowery Branch, especially given the magnitude of the rivalry.
“We know Flowery Branch is going to give us their very best when we play them next week,” said Gainesville running back Michael Byrd, who finished with 119 yards. “We’re going to have to have a great week at practice to be ready to play them.”
Even though Gainesville’s Mikey Gonzalez struggled throwing the ball, following his school-record setting 457-yard passing night a week ago against Cedar Shoals, he started fast against Loganville with a 46-yard touchdown strike to Rodney Lackey, to go up 7-0 after just three minutes of play.
Byrd set up the touchdown pass with a pair of 7-yard runs through the middle of the line.
After Williamson’s pick for Gainesville late in the first quarter, Chandler Staton finished its drive with a 37-yard field goal right down the middle. Less than two minutes later, early in the second quarter, Messiah Dorsey scored on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gonzalez. The touchdown came just two plays after Wade’s interception.
The Red Elephants' final field goal came three plays after Lemi Williams recovered a fumbled punt by Loganville. Staton stuck it through the uprights on fourth down from 35 yards, making Gainesville’s lead 20-0.
Gonzalez finished the night 9 of 23 passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
The drive after Sosebee’s interception was the only Loganville turnover in the first half Gainesville didn’t convert into points.
“We didn’t play great tonight but were able to get enough plays to get the win,” said Byrd. He said his younger brother, Chris, was able to play a series at linebacker against Loganville, after breaking his left ankle on Sept. 26 against Heritage.
Loganville struggled all night to move the ball with 1,300-yard rusher Darryl Giles unable to play. Without Giles, the Red Devils were held to just 34 yards on the ground. Loganville’s leading receiver was Jeffrey New with three catches for 22 yards.
With the loss, Loganville is out of playoff contention. The Red Devils face Clarke Central on Friday in Loganville to wrap up their season.
Lanier (9-0, 8-0) wrapped up the Region 8-AAAAA championship and top seed to the postseason with its 21-10 win against Winder-Barrow.