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Game of the Week: Gainesville hosts Heritage in big region test
Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson cuts through the Apalachee defense for a big gain during the Red Elephants’ game last week at City Park Stadium.

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High school football previews

Heritage at Gainesville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: Heritage, Chad Frazier; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Records: Heritage (4-0, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Gainesville (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA)

Key players: Heritage, LB Chase Alford (6-2, 215 Sr.), QB Ryan Sutton (Jr.), RB Myron Fears (5-8, 175 Sr.). Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 195 Jr.); S Fred Payne (5-11, 180 Sr.); WR Rodney Lackey (5-10, 160 So.).

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. This will be one of the top defenses the Red Elephants will see all year in Heritage, but Gainesville has the offensive firepower to put up just enough points.

Gainesville wants to play fast.

Heritage would rather slow it down.

The pace of tonight’s game at City Park Stadium could go a long way toward deciding which of the Region 8-AAAAA contenders stays perfect in region play.

“I think playing fast and playing smart is a good recipe,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “(The opponent) doesn’t have time to make a lot of adjustments.”

Miller also knows the recipe to beat Gainesville.

“They’re capable of taking the ball, keeping it and not letting us have it for awhile,” he said of Heritage. “That’s a prescription to beat us.

“We’ve got to keep that from happening.”

The seventh-ranked Red Elephants (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA) have not been easy to slow down this season, boasting the fourth-ranked offense in Class AAAAA and averaging an area-best 45 points and 449.8 yards per game, even after battling one of the state’s better defenses in Buford (seven points allowed per game).

Miller said he expects No. 10 Heritage (4-0, 2-0) to be comparable to Buford and Class AAAAAA’s West Forsyth, the one team Gainesville has lost to this season.

The numbers back it up, as the Patriots boast the third-best defense in Class AAAAA, having allowed 5.3 points per game and no more than seven points to any opponent. Heritage is led by senior linebacker Chase Alford, who had 147 tackles last season, and a 19-tackle game against Salem in the region opener two weeks ago.

The Patriots are also the defending Co-Region champion in Region 8-AAAA (which has largely become 8-AAAAA), the first of the big region tests for the newcomers (and defending region champs) from 8-AAA.

“It’s exciting; they’re going to bring it,” said Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, who leads the area with 1,139 yards passing and 13 touchdowns, along with 290 yards rushing and another five scores.

“But you can’t ever get too excited.”

It’ll most likely be a chance for Watson to play a full game, something he hasn’t done since the Buford game thanks to blowouts the last two weeks against Apalachee and Winder-Barrow.

Miller sees it as a benefit after how battered many of the players were after grinding out a tough win over the Wolves.

“We had a chance to rest some people, get some people healthy,” the coach said. “From that standpoint we’re ready to play.”

The Red Elephants defense is also eager to prove that it can stand up to the big lineman of Class AAAAA.

“They’ve got some big boys, some big lineman,” said Gainesville defensive tackle Conner Calvert, who is the team’s biggest lineman at 6-foot, 260. “But we’ve always been the undersized linemen.”

“The defense is the unsung hero of our team,” Miller added.

Calvert, and the rest of the unit, is determined to keep Heritage and top running back Myron Fears (169 yards rushing and a touchdown in last week’s 21-0 win over Cedar Shoals) from effectively running its ball control offense, which will try to have 10 or more offensive plays a drive.

Calvert is looking to get the Patriots off the field much quicker.

“We want to three-and-out them every drive,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking to do.”

And that means more time for Watson and the big-play Gainesville offense to work, something that the unit has only improved at as the season has moved on.

“The last two ball games, and the last part of the Buford game, (Deshaun’s) been in rhythm,” Miller said. “And when he gets in that rhythm, things can happen quickly.”

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