The bus ride back home had to feel good Friday night, especially as Loganville’s football team looked at the scoreboard leaving City Park Stadium in Gainesville.
Visitor 46. Home 41.
The Red Devils pulled off their biggest win of their season and maybe one of the most incredible upsets in the Class AAAAA with a shocking victory over No. 5 Gainesville.
Bernard Merriweather scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left on his 30th carry of the game. It marked the close of a dominating second half by Loganville (3-6, 2-5 Region 8-AAAAA) in which it shut out the high-scoring Red Elephants 26-0 and forced three turnovers.
“We shocked the world,” said Merriweather, who finished with 95 yards and three touchdowns. “We out-executed them and punched the ball right down their throat. Our record may not show it but we’re a pretty good team. They definitely overlooked us.”
All is not lost for Gainesville (7-2, 6-2). It still has a chance to claim the region championship with a victory against Flowery Branch at 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
But a little momentum would have been nice going into the regular season finale. Instead, there is a bitter taste of a defeat that few at City Park could have imagined.
“I told them all week that they couldn’t look ahead,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “This region is too good not to play well every week. We didn’t. You can’t turn it over as much as we did and expect to win. When you’ve been in the business long enough, you get a feel for these things and that we were looking past (Loganville). We just didn’t play well. But Loganville played their butts off.”
Backup quarterback Josh Laughlin came off the bench in the first quarter for Loganville and went 12-of-19 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He hit tight end Luke Ahlenius for 15-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 with 4:42 left.
After Loganville recovered an onside kick, the Red Devils went 63 yards on 10 plays — including another fourth-down conversion inside of two minutes — before Merriweather’s knockout blow.
“We controlled the ball on offense and created turnovers on defense. That was it,” Loganville coach Eric Godfree said. “Josh came in and did a great job. We managed him a little early to get him comfortable and a better feel for the game. We were able to open things up for him and he did just a great job in the second half.”
The Red Elephants appeared in control at halftime with a 41-20 lead. Gainesville scored the last 21 points of the first half including Brenquez Dukes’ 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson hit his first 10 passes and finished the first half 12-of-14 for 208 yards with two touchdowns passing and one running. He spread the wealth through the air and completed passes to six receivers in the first two quarters.
Caleb Hayman caught a 45-yard scoring pass from Watson in the first quarter, and Watson connected for a pair of scores in the second quarter: 21 yards to Michael Byrd on third-and-14 and 36 yards to Jay Gaudlock midway through the period. That came on the heels of a 64-yard kickoff return by Fred Payne.
Byrd also scored on a 2-yard run, and Watson had a 1-yard sneak in the first half. The junior quarterback finished 18-of-23 for 258 yards.
Loganville kept it close with a 2-yard run from Merriweather early and a 64-yard touchdown throw from Laughlin to Tony White in the second quarter, along with a 10-yard scoring run from Brazton Beck.
“We made some adjustments at halftime and thought we had it under control,” Miller said. “We didn’t. It just wasn’t a very good effort by our guys.”
Gainesville had a final chance at the end of the game to take a win. Payne returned the kickoff 49 yards to the Loganville 41, but three incompletions and a clock full of zeroes spelled the end.
“They game-planned very well and didn’t back down at all,” Payne said. “We took them lightly, looked at their record and thought it was going to be an easy win.
“We have to take this game and move forward to the playoffs. We had too many missed assignments. There is a lot of work to do because we still have a chance at the region championship.”