Red Elephants 49, Falcons 7
Difference maker: Gainesville’s Mikey Gonzalez threw for 271 yards and four touchdowns.
Stat that matters: Flowery Branch turned the ball over four times on fumbles.
Turning point: Gainesville’s Chris Williamson recovered a fumble on the pitch and scored on a run from the 1 to go ahead 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Who’s next: Gainesville hosts the first round of the playoffs Friday against Creekview at City Park Stadium. Flowery Branch’s season is now finished.
Gainesville finished the regular season with a much different feeling than it started just three months ago.
On Friday, the Red Elephants were sharp in the passing game and senior Michael Byrd had his third consecutive 100-yard rushing night in a 49-7 win against Flowery Branch in South Hall.
The season started with Red Elephants (8-2) coach Bruce Miller rightly concerned about where the season was headed after a 39-0 loss at Grayson on Aug. 29.
“We’ve come light years,” said Miller, who secured his 13th consecutive postseason berth with the Red Elephants. “We just have to continue to keep building as we move into the postseason.
“I hope our guys aren’t satisfied with where they are yet.”
The outcome of Friday’s game did nothing to impact Gainesville’s playoff seed. Already the No. 2 seed in Region 8-AAAAA, the Red Elephants host Creekview, the No. 3 seed out of Region 7-AAAAA, to open the state tournament Friday at City Park Stadium.
The Red Elephants made huge improvements early in the regular season, behind the arm of senior quarterback Mikey Gonzalez. Against Flowery Branch (5-5), he completed 12 of 14 throws for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Two of his touchdown throws were long passes that hit Chris Williamson perfectly in stride over the middle of the field. Williamson’s first touchdown catch went for 57 yards, and the second was from 53.
“That’s the best I’ve seen Mikey throw the ball all season,” said Williamson, who caught four passes for 145 yards.
“Mikey couldn’t have been any more perfect with those throws if he’d have been able to hand the ball to (Chris),” said Miller.
With the loss, Flowery Branch’s season is now finished at 5-5. Jeremiah Goss kept the Falcons moving on offense with 19 carries for 122 yards and a third-quarter touchdown. However, four turnovers by Flowery Branch led to Gainesville scoring 21 points in the second quarter and taking a 35-0 lead into halftime.
Gainesville’s defense was led by the effort of Kash Jones, who had three sacks, and Chris Lyles, who had a late first-half interception for the Red Elephants. Gainesville held Flowery Branch to 249 yards of offense.
“We’ve come a long way this season,” said junior defensive back Toddrick Turner. “We’ve had a lot of players in positions this year that had to step up and make plays.”
Miller said that his offensive line has also been substantially improved since early in the season. With improved blocking, the Red Elephants have a viable rushing option with Byrd to keep the opposing defense off-balance. Byrd paced Gainesville on the game’s first drive six carries for 51 yards.
The drive lasted 12 plays, capped with Rodney Lackey’s 13-yard catch over his shoulder in the end zone on third down.
“Our offensive line is really maturing out there,” said Miller.
After chewing up four minutes of clock on the first drive, Gainesville’s defense made a stop of Flowery Branch when it had the ball. After a Flowery Branch reception, the ball was stripped away and Jones came away with the recovery.
Before the end of the first quarter, Williamson scored his first touchdown run from the 1. Byrd scored on a run from the 1 in the second quarter, along with a catch on a pass from the 5.
Leading 28-0, Gonzalez finally went deep and hit Williamson on his first long touchdown pass. After faking the handoff, Gonzalez pulled the ball down and hit his receiver, who was about three steps ahead of the defender. Just as he did again in the third quarter, Gonzalez’s throw was right on the money to hit Williamson in stride and easy run into the end zone.
Gainesville finished the game with 441 yards of offense.
Williamson said the efficiency of the Red Elephants’ offense started with the play up front.
“Our offensive line, we couldn’t do anything without them,” said Wiliamson. “They’re playing great.”
Gainesville’s final touchdown came on Byrd’s run from the 29 late in the third quarter, an answer to Flowery Branch’s lone touchdown of the night.
The Falcons’ touchdown was set up a run of 8 yards by punter Jesus Alvarado, who also starts at left tackle, on a fake kick on fourth down. Goss scored just five plays later on a run from the 5.
With the loss, Flowery Branch is held out of the postseason for the first time since 2004.