The Blitz, complete high school coverage
The Gainesville coaching staff had a plan as to how to defeat Region 8-AAAAA opponent Heritage and its third-ranked defense Friday night.
But even coach Bruce Miller didn’t expect it to work quite as well as it did.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “But our guys do a good job of getting themselves ready.”
The seventh-ranked Red Elephants were ready, running all over the previously stingy No. 10 Patriots en route to a 42-14 win at City Park Stadium in Gainesville.
Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson was responsible for much of the damage, finishing 15-for-20 passing for 268 yards and three touchdowns, along with 18 carries for 113 yards and two more scores.
And the Gainesville defense outshined that of the defending co-Region 8-AAAA champs, holding the Patriots (4-1, 2-1) without a score until late in the third quarter with the Red Elephants (4-1, 3-0) already ahead four scores and the game well in hand.
“I knew our defense would have to come up big,” Miller said. “They did early on, and then the offense took control.”
In the first four games, Heritage had allowed 21 points total to opposing teams.
Gainesville matched that by halftime.
Heritage coach Chad Frazier said Gainesville’s speed was tough for the Patriots defense to handle, not to mention Watson, a Clemson recruit.
“They’re very well-coached and get athletes in space, which always creates a problem,” Frazier said. “And Watson is phenomenal.
“Their philosophy is to score early, score big and put the other team in a bind, and that strategy worked perfectly.”
The Red Elephants racked up 469 yards of offense while holding Heritage to 240, and just 63 in the first half.
Gainesville sophomore running back Michael Byrd added 107 total yards of offense, and sophomore wide receiver Rodney Lackey continues his stretch of breakout games with a team-high 111 yards receiving and a touchdown.
“He’s emerged,” Miller said of the receiver. “As the games get bigger he seems to play better.”
And this win, the first big test against a region opponent, meant a lot.
“It means a lot beating the co-region champs,” Watson said. “Now we have to take this win and build on it.”
There’s a lot to build on after a dominating performance.
Gainesville briefly reached Heritage territory on its first drive, and, after a three-and-out by the defense, the Red Elephants found the end zone on their second drive on a 34 -yard pass from Watson to Lackey to finish a four-play, 58-yard drive.
Gainesville held Heritage to one first down on its next drive before forcing another punt, and once again the Red Elephants offense took advantage, driving 68 yards on just two plays for another score and a 14-0 lead with 5:16 remaining in the first.
The big play of the quick drive came on second down, as Watson scrambled before finding Lahius Leverette, who broke a tackle and raced 67 yards for the score.
The Red Elephants went 99 yards on their final touchdown drive of the half, after Heritage punter Tyler Weaver’s fourth of five first-half punts was downed at the 1 yard line.
On second-and-10, Watson found Lackey once again in space. The sophomore, who surpassed 100 yards receiving in the first half, juked a defender and raced all the way down to the Heritage 30-yard line for a 69-yard reception.
Five plays later, Watson ran in from 2 yards to put the hosts ahead 21-0 with 3:09 left in the half.
The Gainesville defense held Heritage to just five first downs in the first half, and allowed the Patriots to cross midfield just once, when Heritage got as far as the 43-yard line before being pushed back and forced to punt. The Patriots managed just 63 total yards of offense in the half, while Gainesville recorded 11 first downs.
Watson hit Caleb Hayman for a 25-yard touchdown pass midway through the third to go up 28-0, and Heritage finally got on the board with less than a minute remaining in the third on a 19-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Isaiah Spencer to Cedrick Davenport, one of two touchdown hookups for the duo.
Watson recorded a second touchdown run in the final quarter and Tray Harrison finished the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run for Gainesville. Defensive back Chandler Newton recorded the lone interception of the night on a Patriots' wide receiver pass.
Gainesville travels to Athens next Friday to play Cedar Shoals, and Heritage plays Winder-Barrow in Winder.