Gainesville coach Bruce Miller on Friday was banking on the hope his squad would build on the momentum from the second half of last week’s game.
But the Marist backfield dictated the tempo with 409 yards of offense and intercepted quarterback D.J. Irons twice to spoil homecoming and down the Red Elephants, 24-10 at City Park.
On the night the school celebrated its 125th anniversary, the Red Elephants (2-3) fell under .500 at the midway point of the regular season for the first time since 1999.
The War Eagles held Big Red to a combined 113 total yards.
Coming in, Miller predicted his team’s number of possessions would be limited against a War Eagles’ option-wishbone inspired offense, and stressed the importance of capitalizing on any opportunity it could get. He was right.
After both squads traded fumbles to start the game, the Red Elephants pounced on the first passing attempt by Marist quarterback Jack Dinges with a Tyree Robinson interception returned to the War Eagles 16 yard-line. Irons (9-of-22 passing, 87 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) then hit a wide-open Red Davis (three catches 45 yards, TD) in the back corner of the end zone for a 16-yard connection at the 8:30 mark of the opening quarter.
The Red Elephants recovered two War Eagle fumbles, but had a pair of scores called back by penalties. A 46-yard hookup from Irons to Davis on the post was erased by an offset of fouls during Gainesville’s third possession midway through the second quarter. Irons was picked off on the next play.
A Calvin Murphy 55-yard fumble recovery returned for a touchdown was later negated by an illegal block in the back to start the second half. Big Red instead settled for a Brandon Reyna 41-yard field goal four plays later, the last points Marist would surrender.
The War Eagles only punted twice and engineered multiple scoring drives of nine or more plays, including a 17-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 1-yard Michael Addicks touchdown plunge for the final score of the game with 6:05 left.
The Red Elephants’ front seven was visibly fatigued by the end due to a Marist ground game that totaled 322 yards on a combined 59 carries.
“You gotta stop the run to win football games, and you gotta be able to move to football, and we did neither one,” Miller said. “I’m just very discouraged right now. I thought we’d play them better than we did. But they just came out and kicked our butt, kept the ball from us. I told them that’s what they wanted to do, and they did.”
Fullback Addicks (13 carries, 76 yards, 2 TDs) found his footing early with bruising runs on the War Eagles’ second possession of the opening quarter. He carried three times during a run-heavy 12-play, 84-yard drive, his third an 11-yard plunge at the 2:56 mark.
“No. 25 (Addicks), that dude is just a monster also,” linebacker Willie Brooks said. “My body’s hurting after trying to tackle him the whole game.”
Tied 7-7, the War Eagles (No. 87) sacked Irons on a third-and-9 to force a Red Elephants punt. The War Eagles muscled down field for a 12-play scoring drive, one extended by a Red Elephants pass interference call. The War Eagles’ success on the ground even began to give way for quarterback Dinges and the play-action. Dinges mixed in a 20-yard connection off the play-action to put his team at Big Red’s 24 yard-line on the seventh play with the ball.
“Our whole intention was to stop the dive, and we kind of did that when the play-action came,” Brooks said. “I wouldn’t say that it caught us by surprise, I don’t think our defense was expecting that. ... We were just expecting them to run that the whole game.”
Dinges (174 total yards) added his biggest completion of 45 yards in the fourth quarter again off the playaction to his 6-foot-6 tight end John Fitzpatrick, who also had a sack and pass deflection in the game at defensive end.
The Red Elephants (2-3) open Region 8-AAAAAA play on the road against Habersham Central.
“We just didn’t play well as a team,” Miller added. “We gotta fix that. ... I think we’re at a crossroads as far as our kids are concerned. We gotta see which team shows up and plays next week.”