You know what they say about assumptions. Never make them.
Heavily-favored Gainesville (1-0) displayed obvious flashes of first-game jitters, complete with a plethora of penalties and one turnover. But the Red Elephants found a way to win 20-10 against a rejuvenated West Hall squad that rose to the occasion in the inaugural Marvin Orenstein Kickoff Classic.
The Spartans (0-1) came out strong on the defensive side by sacking the Red Elephants’ dual-threat passer DJ Irons four times in the first half — three times by George Lira to start — and five for the contest. The Red Elephants’ rushing attack was held to a combined 45 yards for the contest.
A 34-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by West Hall’s Patrick Hudson from inside Red Elephant territory even brought the Spartans within three points of the Red Elephants with 6:58 to go in the third quarter.
Spartans coach Tony Lotti could only tip his cap and congratulate his group in the postgame huddle.
“What I was really proud of, was I felt like the kids on both sides played extremely hard to bring honor to somebody,” Lotti said. “That’s why we created this game to begin with. It’s good for my community, it’s good for coach (Bruce Miller’s) community, and more importantly it was good for the community members that help us to see ‘Look, we don’t take you for granted.’ And I think Mr. Orenstein is probably smiling down on us.”
The late Orenstein was longtime owner of Gem Jewelry in Gainesville and honored local school MVPs with a watch each season.
If if wasn’t for quarterback Irons, the Red Elephants would have been hanging their heads with a loss. Irons picked up on West Hall’s blitzes throughout the evening by completing 18 of 28 attempts for 288 yards and a touchdown. A 40-yard hookup with leading receiver Martavius Davis down the middle put the Red Elephants on the board in the second quarter. He went right back to Davis before the end of the third, connecting for a 69-yard pickup to the Spartans’ 2-yard-line before running back Kadarius Smith finished the job for the Elephants’ third score.
“It’s actually great,” Irons said. “It was nerve-wracking at first, because first time starting, you know? But I got it out of my system.”
The Red Elephants’ youth was apparent in some instances, committing 135 yards worth of penalties to keep the Spartans alive on multiple drives. The Spartans were able to find the scoreboard on a 40-yard field goal by Israel Lopez after two Red Elephant penalties extended the drive, including a dead-ball personal foul for 15 yards.
“We have got to cut down on those penalties,” Miller said. “Those penalties are going to kill us. Those penalties, we just cannot make (un-smart) penalties. We just gotta control ourselves. It’s an aggressive game, we got to learn to play with aggression. But we also have to learn how to stop.”
The Red Elephants also got two clutch field goals (33, 41 yards) out of kicker Brandon Levya on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. Tyree Robinson set up both opportunities, the first on a fumble recovery on West Hall's 36-yard-line. He came back with an interception returned to West Hall’s 37-yard line three plays into the Spartans' ensuing drive.
Senior linebacker Kris Montague led in tackles with 14, while senior defensive lineman Josh Harrison led at the point of attack with 13 tackles and a sack.
“Our defense, they’re just savages, full of savages,” Robinson said of his teammates. “We call ourselves the Doom Squad for a reason, because we brought it.”
Tyrese Osborne (94 rushing yards) was held to seven yards on a pair of carries in the first half, but turned it up down the home stretch, racking up 87 yards in the second half. A 57-yard pickup by Osborne on the third play of the Spartans’ fourth offensive possession of the second half even put the hosts inside the Red Elephants 20-yard-line. But a missed field goal belitted that feat.
The Red Elephants host non-region Alpharetta in week 2. West Hall will play at rival Johnson in the Battle of Oakwood next Friday.