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Gainesville players, fans react to state championship win
Gainesville Red Elephants Damian Grayson, right, and Benquez Dukes hug Coach Bruce Miller after the team arrived back at the school early Saturday after winning the State Class AAAAA football title. - photo by Tom Reed

On Friday night, Gainesville claimed its first football state championship with a 49-13 victory over Ware County. On Saturday, the effects of the win were just starting to sink in.

“(The feeling’s) finally sinking in,” coach Bruce Miller said. “Fred Payne said after the game ‘Coach, is this a dream?’ And I said ‘This isn’t a dream, it’s reality.’ What a great feeling. I’m so proud of each player, and I wanted to congratulate each player. And, I want everyone to know, this is a great team.”

Fred Payne, who returned a fumble 39 yards for a touchdown and set up a second score with an interception in the win, not only asked Miller if Friday night was a dream, but he also asked his family.

“(I’m) still surprised. It’s a first. It’s a blessing,” Payne said. “(I’ve) been asking my family if it’s a dream. The family believed in me. The fans believed in us. It’s a great honor.”

For Gainesville High athletic director Wayne Vickery, the win Friday night closed up old wounds from the six previous misses the school had suffered in state championship games before. It also brought emotions and the feeling of former coach Bobby Gruhn.

“(I know) Coach Gruhn was looking down on us. (You) lay there at night wondering if we’re the Minnesota Vikings of high school football. We’d been so close,” he said. “We got beat in 1983; 7-6 on a bobbled snap, in a monsoon. In ’09 we went for two, but the Peach County linebacker knocked it down. It’s so hard to get back to the (state championship) game.

“Friday night covered old wounds. (People) can never say ‘they’ve never won a state title’ again. It was a (special) moment for the city of Gainesville.”

Friday night’s victory wasn’t only felt and celebrated in Gainesville.

As far away as South Bend, Ind., a former Gainesville player celebrated his alma mater’s victory. Wide receiver TJ Jones tweeted “Glad to see my youngins brought home the first state title to GHS. One a red elephant always a red elephant. Couldn’t be prouder.”

Jones currently plays for Notre Dame.

Blake Sims, now a backup quarterback at Alabama and the quarterback at Gainesville when they lost to Peach County in the ‘09 final, celebrated from Tuscaloosa, tweeting “Congrats to the ville them boys played real good I’m proud of y’all real talk glad to be apart of the big red #nation and yea we nationwide.”

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