A lack of discipline and little-to-no ground game held Gainesville back on Friday night as the Red Elephants moved to 1-3 at the friendly confines of City Park with a 25-20 loss to Dacula.
Gainesville (3-4, 1-1 8-AAAAAA) and the Falcons (3-4, 2-0) each had long touchdowns called back for holding penalties, but it was a late penalty that took all hopes away for a Red Elephants’ comeback victory.
Gainesville scored on a 32-yard pass from DJ Irons to Jim Barnett, who laid out into a Superman-style dive to cut the deficit to 25-20.
On the ensuing Dacula possession, a dead-ball, 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Red Elephants moved the Falcons from the Gainesville 47-yard line down to the 32. The penalty extended the drive and allowed Dacula to kill the clock and ice the win.
“We’re getting those (15-yard penalties) and we’ve just got to use our head and not get those penalties,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “We just don’t show any discipline at times. I take that on my shoulders. We should know better. It’s just one of those things — it’s disheartening.”
Gainesville outgained the Falcons 359-273 in total yards. The Red Elephants gained only 70 yards on the ground compared to 219 for Dacula.
“We cannot get a ground game going and it’s just killing us,” Miller said. “DJ’s just having to drop back and throw and, if they know where you’re at, they’re going to put the pressure on you and they did.”
The first snap of the game for Dacula went Gainesville’s way when it was mishandled by Falcons quarterback Shayne Buckingham. The Red Elephants recovered the fumble after going three-and-out to open the game.
The scoring opened with an interception return for a touchdown. Gainesville had the ball at its own 35-yard line and Irons was intercepted by Dacula’s Jalen Perry.
Gainesville got on the board with 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a 1-yard run by running back Tyriq Kabir. A missed extra point left the Red Elephants trailing 7-6.
From there, Dacula scored 18 unanswered points. The Falcons held a 19-6 lead at halftime, scoring on a 39-yard rushing play by Tre McMillan and a 21-yard pass from Buckingham to Kenny Severe. Severe’s touchdown came with just eight seconds remaining before the break.
McMillan (19 carries, 128 yards, two touchdowns) scored his final touchdown on a 5-yard rush just two plays after De’Andre Price intercepted Irons and returned the ball to the Red Elephants’ 6-yard line.
On the next possession, Irons found Barnett (5 receptions, 87 yards, touchdown) for a 2-yard pass. Irons then connected with Roadarius Timmons for a 50-yard pass to the Dacula 12.
Three plays later, Irons (15 of 29 passing, 289 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) hooked up with Brendon Goss for a 6-yard score.
The Red Elephants appeared to score on a trick play on the next possession, but it was negated by an illegal forward pass penalty.
Gainesville’s defense held strong to force a turnover on downs, getting the ball back to the offense on Dacula’s 39-yard line. Two plays later, Irons and Barnett connected for the 32-yard score.
“We’re thinking if we can get the ball back we might have a chance to win this game,” Miller said.
But Gainesville could not. The Falcons then held the ball for 5:54 to kill the clock with help of the 15-yard penalty.
“They held the ball for six minutes. It wasn’t anything fancy. They just came right at you,” Miller said. “When you’ve got to make plays, you’ve got to make plays. We pulled ourselves back in the game and couldn’t stop them.”
Both coach Miller and Irons said the Red Elephants need to work on their discipline.
“It just seems like every time we take a step forward, we take two steps backward. It’s just discouraging,” Miller said. “It just really eats at me. It’s the little things we can do something about, but we just don’t seem to make it happen.”
Irons said he and his team need to continue to have fun at practice, but get a little more serious at the same time if they want to be successful down the stretch.
“We’ve got to bounce back again,” Irons said. “We’ve got to go into practice focused again. We’ve got to have fun, but we’ve got to take it serious, too.
“We’ve got to be disciplined. Everything comes down to how you practice. How you practice is how you play. We do practice sluggish some times, but we’ve got to pick it up now.”
Gainesville plays host to Winder-Barrow in another region matchup next Friday. It’ll be the last home game of the season for the Red Elephants, who finishes on the road at Apalachee and at Lanier.
“There is discouragement tonight, but you’ve got 24 hours to get over it and go again,” Miller said.