Gainesville High School’s football season got off to a rocky start on Friday as it dropped its opening scrimmage to St. Pius X 27-0 at City Park.
And while the game didn’t count in the standings, head coach Bruce Miller said a lot was learned from the way his team played.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Miller said to his team, huddled at midfield after the game. “We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”
Coming into the game, one of the biggest question marks for the Red Elephants was how their defense would look following the graduation of nine starters.
Immediate results were not positive.
St. Pius controlled the game from the start, reeling off a 55-yard run on the first play from scrimmage by running back Geno Smith. He scored on a 7-yard run two plays later. He added another score — a 10-yarder — on the next drive and topped it off with a 64-yarder in the third quarter. Starting quarterback Trey White added 145 yards on the ground.
“We missed a lot of tackles on defense,” Miller said.
Speaking about the position battles on defense, Miller said that positions had not been decided.
“I think we’ll probably go right up until the first game before anything’s solved there,” he said.
Adding to the team’s difficulties was the absence of incumbent quarterback, sophomore Deshaun Watson, who sat for unspecified team reasons, according to Miller. Miller said that he expects Watson to be back in time for the regular season.
Starting in his place was senior Stephen Mason, who turned out to be one of the few bright spots in the game.
While Mason couldn’t quite get the ball across the goalline, he completed 13 of 21 passes for 103 yards and an interception, including a few squeezed through tight holes in the defense.
“He did a great job,” Miller said of his quarterback. “He can play a number of positions for us. It gives me a lot of comfort to know I’ve got him out there.”
While St. Pius had no problem on the ground, the Red Elephants struggled to get its running game going. They lost their top two leading rushers from a year ago, Devon Pierce and Markece Robertson, and struggled to replace their production in the scrimmage.
Mason led the team in rushing with just 16 yards on the ground. Projected starter sophomore Ray Ray Thomas also sat out of the game.
“Our running game wasn’t very good tonight,” Miller said. “We’ve got to work harder at establishing the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball.”
But despite the poor opening performance, he said that he was not worried about the team going forward.
“St. Pius is a good team,” Miller said. “That’s why we play them. They expose a lot of our weaknesses. It’s what you do week to week to week that counts. Teams that play well early and don’t get any better — you worry about those teams. We got tested tonight and failed that test. But we’ll get better.”
Gainesville’s next test will be on Aug. 26 when they will face the four-time Class AA defending champion Buford Wolves.
“Buford’s a good team,” Miller said. “We’ve got a lot of holes to fill between now and then, but if I know our guys, I know we’ll rise to the occasion and keep getting better.”
BUFORD 21 CLARKE CENTRAL 7:
Three touchdown runs were enough to power the four-time defending state champions to a victory in their first preseason scrimmage at Clarke Central High on Friday.
Nathan Staub had a run of 29 yards, while Zack Cable and Thomas Wilson added runs of one yard and 71 yards, respectively.
FLOWERY BRANCH 28 LASSITER 25:
Flowery Branch head coach Lee Shaw was disappointed in the Falcons “sloppy” performance on Friday night at Lassiter High School.
Shaw said with having camp last week and school practices starting up, the Falcons have practiced for 12 days straight and are due a much deserved break. After being down 25-14 at the half, his second and third teams pulled out the victory, outscoring the Trojans 14-0 in the second half.
“The two’s, three’s, and freshmen looked great when they had the opportunity to get on the field in the second half,” Shaw said.
“That’s why you play a quality team like Lassiter,” he added, “So you can see what you, as a team, need to work on.”
RIVERSIDE MILITARY 6 HEBRON CHRISTIAN 0:
A solid defensive performance by the Eagles helped seal up the shutout in the team’s only preseason scrimmage at Riverside Academy Friday night.
“Anytime your defense can pitch a shutout, you’ve done something right,” Riverside head coach Chris Cotter said.
Cotter also added how Riverside “marched the ball up and down the field, but struggled to put points on the board in the red zone.”
Quarterback Collin Pettell completed 11 passes on 25 attempts for 138 yards with one interception.
Quentin Young was the leading receiver with 60 yards on five catches.
Leading the Eagles in rushing was Marlin Edwards, who tallied 50 yards on 13 carries.
CHESTATEE at EAST HALL:
The scrimmage gave valuable playing time to players from both teams Friday night.
No score was kept during the scrimmage. Instead both teams were given 10-play drives starting at the 20-yard line. In the second half drives were started at the 10-yard line.
“Tonight was a great night of getting better at football,” Chestatee head coach Stan Lutrell said. He was also pleased to report no injuries were sustained.
East Hall head coach Bryan Gray, who was able to get all of his players in the game, commented how excited his kids were to “hit somebody else with different colored jerseys.”
No stats from either team were given.
LAKEVIEW at COMMERCE:
Though no official score was kept, Commerce scored touchdowns on three possessions. Lakeview put two in the end zone.
The Lions scored on a 50-yard run by Ted Reynolds and a scoop-and-score by Thomas Tarice on the last play of the game.
Commerce quarterback Cody Streetman had his hand in two of the scores, a seven-yard run and a 16-yard pass to Drew Whitfield.The Tigers Quay Little added in a 12-yard run.
Commerce head coach Marvin Justice made his coaching debut Friday night. He has served as the Tigers defensive coordinator for the past five seasons.
Lakeview head coach Matthew Gruhn was pleased with the effort by his team, which included forcing two turnovers.
"Though it was a positive performance, I am certainly glad we have two weeks to get ready." Gruhn said.
Graham Reaves contributed to this story.