WATKINSVILLE — In his first five games of the year, Deshaun Watson let the game come to him and did what was necessary to win.
On Friday, the freshman quarterback showed why he was handed the reins of the Gainesville offense.
Watson finished 15-of-23 for 295 yards passing and four touchdowns to lead No. 9 Gainesville to a 41-7 win over Oconee County in Watkinsville.
"The first couple of games I was getting the nerves out," said Watson, who also had 40 rushing yards on six carries. "It feels good to come out here as a freshman and play good against a very good Oconee County team."
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said Watson's performance is just a sign of what he's capable of.
"We're starting to be where we can let him do more," said Miller, who returned to the sidelines after serving a one-game suspension for a Sept. 24 ejection. "We've been trying to bring him along slowly and we all know he can execute the offense very well."
The night didn't start so well for Watson as Ikaan Jones intercepted his first pass attempt of the game. That didn't faze the young quarterback.
On Gainesville's next possession, Watson completed three passes for 38 yards and marched the Red Elephants (5-1, 2-0 Region 8B-AAA) downfield for their first touchdown of the night, a 4-yard run by Markece Robertson.
While bouncing back from an interception was critical for his confidence, Watson's most impressive drive of the night came during the Red Elephants' next possession.
Starting at their own 19, Watson led the offense on a 10-play scoring drive that ended with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Mason on third-and-19.
"We came out fired up and ready," Watson said.
Oconee County (1-5, 0-2) answered that score with a 78-yard touchdown pass from Conner White to Cole Thurston, but any momentum that built quickly disappeared.
Like they did four times last week against Johnson, the Red Elephants scored on their first play from scrimmage on their ensuing possession. With eight men in the box, Watson found a streaking Michael Lorentz over the middle and the senior wide receiver raced down the middle of the field for a 70-yard touchdown that gave Gainesville a 21-7 lead.
"I saw the safety shift and plenty of grass in front of him," Watson said of the pass to Lorentz, who had 75 yards receiving on two catches. "That was big because (Oconee County) had all the momentum and we took it back."
Gainesville piled it on from there and scored on a Devon Pierce 1-yard run and a 10-yard pass from Watson to Robertson to build a 34-7 lead before halftime.
With a big game against Monroe Area next week, Miller and the rest of the Red Elephants knew how important it was to prove their worth against Oconee County.
"I told the guys if they want to send a message, you gotta send a message," said Miller, whose team had 551 yards of offense to 195 for the Warriors. "This win says to our kids and our coaches that we're improving week to week and that's all you can ask for."
That, and a win next week in what could determine the subregion champion.
"It's huge," Miller said of next week's game at Monroe Area. "I really don't think you can have a loss in the subregion and still win (the region)."