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Gainesville airs it out to beat Clarke Central, 35-10
QB Gonzalez tosses 4 TD passes as Red Elephants rise past last week's loss
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Gainesville wide receiver Chris Williamson eludes a tackle against Clarke Central on Friday at City Park Stadium. - photo by Jared Putnam

Red Elephants 35, Gladiators 10

Difference maker: Gainesville senior quarterback Mikey Gonzalez completed 20 of 25 attempts for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

Stat that matters: The Red Elephants held Clarke Central’s talented junior running back JaQua Daniels, who was slowed with an injury, to 30 yards rushing and 42 receiving.

Turning point: Leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, Gainesville’s J.D. Sosebee scooped up a blocked field goal and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.

Who’s next: Gainesville visits Cedar Shoals on Friday in Athens; Clarke Central plays host to Winder-Barrow in Athens.

Gainesville got rid of a bitter taste in its mouth with a sharp performance Friday against Clarke Central when it needed it most.

Red Elephants (5-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAAA) quarterback Mikey Gonzalez continued his strong senior season by completing 20 of 25 throws for 305 yards and four touchdowns, along with a special teams touchdown by Gainesville to pull away from Clarke Central 35-10 at City Park Stadium.

Just a week ago, the Red Elephants were coming off a narrow loss against Lanier, putting the Longhorns in the driver’s seat for the region championship. However, the Red Elephants didn’t stay down long.

Gonzalez was brilliant at quarterback against an athletic Gladiators defense, while senior receiver Chris Williamson made some momentum-changing plays for the Red Elephants.

“It was just a complete performance all the way around,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “The defense played great, the running game was sharp and the line did a great job blocking.”

With the win, the Red Elephants are certainly in the running to earn the No. 2 spot for the postseason, with three regular season games to go. The second spot to the playoffs would mean Gainesville would open the postseason at home. And if No. 7 Lanier was to stumble down the stretch, the Red Elephants could still sneak in and grab the region title.

Enticing as the hopes of still winning a region title are, Red Elephants players are most concerned about winning their own games. Gainesville senior Michael Byrd played a big part with a team-high 60 rushing yards. The Red Elephants built a 21-3 lead in the second quarter, in part due to kicker Chandler Staton’s two touchdown-saving tackles in the open field.

“It seems like Chandler makes a big play for us every game,” Miller said, acknowledging that his kicker's stops were huge in the outcome.

The biggest play of the game, however, for Gainesville was by senior linebacker J.D. Sosebee, according to Byrd. Leading 7-0 in the final seconds of the first quarter, Sosebee scooped up a blocked Clarke Central field goal and ran in 70 yards for the score. Hard-hitting junior Toddrick Turner blocked the kick, and also cleared out the final Gladiators (4-3, 3-3) player on the other end of the field to secure Sosebee’s second touchdown of the season. Turner left the game with a dislocated finger when he blocked the kick, according to Sosebee, but returned in the second half.

As far as Byrd is concerned, worrying about who’s first in the region standings is probably a waste of time.

“As long as we continue to handle our business, we’ll be fine,” said Byrd. “I thought we prepared hard all week to play Clarke Central tonight and did well all the way around.”

At quarterback, Gonzalez has continued to lead with his steady right arm and decision-making ability. He had two touchdown throws to Rodney Lackey, and also hit both Messiah Dorsey and Chris Williamson for a score. Williamson had the longest play of the night, a catch that went for a 65-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to cushion Gainesville’s lead at 35-10.

Williamson also made two huge plays in the first half. After bobbling a kickoff midway through the second quarter at about the Gainesville 10, he regained a handle of the ball, shook off a couple tacklers and got the ball to the Clarke Central 48 before he was brought down. Later in the drive, he ran full sprint and layed out for a Gonzalez pass for the reception at the 3. Two plays later, Gonzalez hit Lackey in the end zone for the touchdown.

“Chris certainly made some big plays for us,” said Miller. “I’m very proud of how all of our kids played tonight.”

Before Lackey’s touchdown for Gainesville on the opening drive of the second half, Williamson hauled in a pass that Gonzalez placed perfectly over the coverage of a Clarke Central defender, and into Williamson’s arms.

Scoring first for the Red Elephants in the first quarter was Dorsey with a 10-yard touchdown catch from Gonzalez.

For Clarke Central, talented junior running back JaQua Daniels was noticeably injured — holding his ribs between almost every snap — which forced it to throw the ball more than usual. Daniels was held to 30 yards on 11 carries, while catching six passes for 42 yards. Gladiators quarterback Aakeem Wise completed 22 of 45 throws for 229 yards, including a 13-yard pass into the back of the end zone for a touchdown to An’Zavion Brown. Marcus Campbell led Clarke Central’s receivers with five catches for 76 yards.

With the loss, the Gladiators are currently in what is shaping up to be a four-team battle for the final spot out of 8-AAAAA to the postseason.

Clarke Central also played the majority of the game without standout senior tight end and defensive end Qua-Von Scott, who was helped off the field by its training staff in the first quarter, and didn’t return until late in the game.

On Friday, Gainesville visits Cedar Shoals in Athens; Clarke Central hosts Winder-Barrow at Billy Henderson Field in Athens.

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