One game down, four to go.
It’s a new season for Gainesville coach Bruce Miller as far as he’s concerned, and things could not have started any better for the Red Elephants last week, bouncing back from their two-game skid to open Region 8-AAAAAA play with a 24-7 win over Habersham Central on the road.
In order to get on the path toward what will be the program’s 17th-consecutive postseason appearance, Miller hopes to make it back-to-back region wins tonight against Dacula (2-4, 1-0 Region 8-AAAAAA) at City Park Stadium.
“There’s only five region games, so if you could go 2-0 in the region, you would kind of really set yourself up to probably win one or two more games to get into the playoffs,” Miller said.
The Red Elephants (3-3, 1-0) desperately needed a rebound after surrendering 409 yards of offense to Marist in Week 7.
His guys delivered on both sides against the Raiders.
Miller saw Mandrell Banks, Herve Aklotsoe and others facilitate their roles in a big way in order to corral Raiders running back Michael Babers (58 yards) and limit the plays of quarterback Cole Wilbanks. On offense, Red Elephants quarterback D.J. Irons surpassed the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season as he completed 61 percent of his throws for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
“After two straight weeks against Jefferson and Marist, we needed some good things to happen and we went up to Habersham and played exceptionally well,” Miller said. “I thought we did some great things on defense and took advantage of all our opportunities on offense.”
Gainesville has another run-savvy opponent next on the docket in the Dacula Falcons (2-4) fronted by former Lumpkin County coach Tommy Jones. The Falcons not only showcase two capable running backs in Ty Harris (77 carries, 408 yards, five touchdowns) and Tre McMillan (33 carries, 318 yards, 3 TDs) , but enter this week looking to rekindle the flame lost after a convincing outing against Class AAAAAAA playoff contender Central Gwinnett in their season opener.
The Falcons have been battered by injuries since according to Jones. Their offense has sputtered since rolling up more than 300 rushing yards in a 34-13 victory over Central Gwinnett. The Falcons lost four straight and managed just 35 total points before their first bye week.
The Falcons snapped that skid by defeating Apalachee 26-7 in their region opener on Oct. 8. It was also the 300th win for the program. Harris accounted for 140 of the Falcons 260 rushing yards and a touchdown in the win.
Miller wants to see that same defensive intensity carry over from the Habersham Central game.
“Dacula runs a different type offense,” Miller added. “We were able to hold Babers down, and our defense played super against them. And we’ll need another super night out of our defense against this team, because they are heavily run oriented, and they do run the option. So we’ve got to be prepared to play assignment football.”
Gainesville linebackers Kris Montague (80 total tackles, three sacks) and Keith Harris (83 total tackles, two sacks), and defensive end Joshua Harrison (four sacks) continue to set the physical tone for its front seven.
Jones sees a 1-0 start in region play as something that can propel the Falcons with some momentum moving forward.
The Red Elephants’ aerial assault will be on the agenda of coach Jones, as he preps his players for what he anticipates to be an exciting game tonight.
“He has a real ability to extend plays and find receivers off the scramble,” Jones said of Irons. “Gainesville has an outstanding scheme offensively and big playmakers, and they know how to get to those playmakers in space, and make plays.”
Red Davis and Jim Barnett are two of those speedy targets for the Red Elephants’ first-year signal caller. Senior Andy Hayes was another to step up in last week’s win with six catches for a season-high 107 yards behind Barnett, who had 112 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Miller also will be putting the pressure on his young offensive front to open some holes for a run game that has been almost non-existent through six games, averaging just 42.2 yards each week. The Red Elephants managed just 56 yards on a combined 22 carries against the Raiders.
This will be the third meeting all-time for both programs, though have not played since 1997. The Falcons won both previous contests.