They didn't play much, but Gainesville coach Bruce Miller saw what he wanted to see out of his starters.
A week before playing for their third straight region title, the Red Elephants rolled up 42 first-half points en route to a 48-6 win over West Hall on Friday at City Park.
"Our defense and offense are playing so well that it's just fun to watch them out there," said Miller, who pulled his starters after one series in the third quarter. "They've done a great job all year, and they can see how much they've improved from the beginning of the year."
One of the biggest improvements has been the play of freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, who completed his first eight pass attempts for 93 yards, including a pair of touchdowns to senior Michael Lorentz.
Watson's third touchdown of the night came on a 9-yard strike to Stephen Mason as time expired in the first half. Watson's first incompletion of the night came with 23.6 seconds left in the half.
"We came out thinking they were pretty good and we wanted to start fast like we always do," said Watson, who finished 10-of-11 for 129 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 55 yards on four carries.
The night wasn't all about the youngster, as senior running backs Devon Pierce (113 yards) and Markece Robertson (71 yards) each scored a touchdown in the first half. Pierce scored on a 58-yard run that gave Gainesville a 14-0 lead, and added an 11-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Playing in his final regular season game at City Park made that performance and win all the more special for Pierce.
"It's our last game so we wanted to make it a big night," Pierce said. "We came out ready. We've been working hard since we were freshmen and I think the upperclassmen who just graduated would be happy for us."
Especially if they watch the defense. Anchored by seniors A.J. Johnson, Thomas Niles, Kevin Hall and Tim Rucker, the Red Elephants held West Hall to 35 total yards in the first half, with only three yards coming on the ground.
Gainesville also intercepted two passes, one by senior Mike Norman inside the Red Elephants' 20. Fellow senior Rashad Lawrence intercepted a pass in the third quarter that set up Pierce's second touchdown.
"We just try to go out and make big plays," Johnson said. "I believe in our defense and this game was huge because it gave us momentum heading into next week."
Gainesville's biggest play came by sophomore Keyontra Harrison, who scored a touchdown on a 50-yard punt return that gave his team a commanding 21-0 lead after one quarter.
With a region title matchup with White County next week, and knowing how important winning the region is, Miller and the Red Elephants got the chance to work on their two-minute offense late in the first half. Following Norman's interception and with 1:03 left until halftime, the Red Elephants completed a five-play, 77-yard drive that ended with Watson's third pass of the night.
"Next week, everything counts," said Miller, whose defense stopped West Hall behind the line of scrimmage in seven of the 26 plays the first half. "You want to be playing well this time of year and there are a lot of things at stake."
Most importantly the No. 1 seed heading to the state playoffs.
"We got a chance to be home forever," Miller said. "And we like being at home here at Bobby Gruhn Field."
West Hall's lone points came on a 36-yard field goal by Connor Kirkland with 2:01 left in the game.