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Game of the Week: Gainesville at Monroe Area
Gainesville High’s Ray Ray Thomas, left, and A.J. Johnson walk away from a tackle during the Red Elephants’ win over North Hall earlier this season.

Gainesville at Monroe Area

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Hurricane Stadium, Monroe

Radio: 1240-AM

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Monroe Area, Matt Fligg

Records: Gainesville (5-1, 2-0 Region 8B-AAA); Monroe Area (6-0, 2-0)

Key players: Gainesville, LB A.J. Johnson (6-3, 235 Sr.), QB Deshaun Watson (6-1, 170 Fr.), LB Kevin Hall (5-11, 205 Sr.). Monroe Area, Monroe Area, QB Demontavious Smith (6-2, 180 Sr.), DE Stephon Tuitt (6-5, 260 Sr.), TE/DE Kendarious Whitehead (6-3, 215 Jr.).

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. While they’re undefeated, the Purple Hurricanes have yet to face a team like Gainesville, which boasts a potent offense and a stout defense that is tough to run on.

Holloway: Trojans, Elephants in a battle to stay on top

Week 8 previews

After Monroe Area’s 48-6 win over Walnut Grove last week, Purple Hurricanes coach Matt Fligg looked at his team and told them that “they were fixing to play the biggest game of their lives.”

Following Gainesville’s 41-7 win over Oconee County, Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller told his players the same thing, stating that “they need to understand the importance of their next game.”

Yeah, it’s safe to say tonight’s Region 8B-AAA showdown between the Red Elephants (5-1, 2-0) and Purple Hurricanes (6-0, 2-0) is a pretty big deal.

With sole possession of first place on the line, both Miller and Fligg realize tonight’s winner is in prime position to win the subregion and reach the region title game in the final week of the season.

“When you put things in the capsule of a season, it’s about as big as one game can get,” said Miller, whose
No. 9 Red Elephants have won five straight. “We still have two more games, and we gotta play them out, but it could sure put us in the driver’s seat with a win (tonight).”

Fligg feels the same way, and despite coming off back-to-back winless seasons, his 10th-ranked Purple Hurricanes are ready to make a statement against a team that finished second in Class AAA last year.

“The kids have played well all year, but they know this week will be different,” said Fligg, who started the Chestatee program in 2002. “Gainesville is the best team that has come to this stadium.”

Some could argue that Monroe Area is the best team to play at its stadium. The Purple Hurricanes boast a defense surrendering 4.8 points per game and an offense averaging nearly 38 points per contest. They have three defensive linemen — Jonathan Whitehead, Travis Butts and Stephon Tuitt, who’s verbally committed to Notre Dame — that take up a lot of space and wreck havoc on running backs and quarterbacks, and a quarterback in Demontavious Smith, who is the focal point in Gainesville’s defensive game plan.

“He can make big plays the whole game,” said Gainesville defensive lineman Tim Rucker. “We gotta hit him early and often.”

Like his coaching counterpart, Fligg also knows his team must focus on Gainesville freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns last week against Oconee County.

“He plays like a pro,” Fligg said of Watson. “He’s a gifted athlete, and as a coach, you respect and admire players like that. By God, you better watch him on every play.”

As much as he’s concerned with stopping Watson, Fligg knows his team’s biggest hurdle will be facing Gainesville’s spread offense.

“We haven’t seen a Tony Franklin system all year,” he said. “That’s something we’ve had to work on a lot this week.”

The Red Elephants have also had their share of preparation this week, and as difficult as it’s going to be to run on Monroe Area, Miller’s biggest concern is his opponent’s overall quickness.

“They’re probably the fastest team we’ve seen all year except Buford,” Miller said. “When you haven’t seen that in a while, you have to get in the game and get adjusted to it.”

Gainesville will also have to adjust to playing in a raucous environment filled with Monroe Area faithful pulling for a monumental victory.

“It’s gonna be rocking in the Purple Pit,” Fligg said. “Our community has been fantastic and they’re excited.

This is the biggest thing going on in this town of Monroe.

“But on the flip side, Gainesville’s used to (big games),” he added. “They’ve played so many big games that this is just another game for them.”

Or is it?

“It’s gonna be big,” Rucker said, “probably the biggest game of the year.”

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