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Heritage test looms large for Gainesville
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Gainesville vs. Heritage

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Heritage, Wendell Early

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

Key players: Gainesville, QB Mikey Gonzalez (5-8, 167 Sr.); RB/LB Chris Byrd (5-10, 190 Jr.); LB J.D. Sosebee (6-0, 220 Sr.). Heritage, QB David Turner (6-0, 180 Sr.); LB/TE Seth Fallen (6-1, 230 Sr.); DB Quentin Dixon (5-9, 150 Jr.).

Read the high school previews of Week 5 here:

High above the posters, letters and plaques of Gainesville teams gone by, a lone football sits in a case near the door in coach Bruce Miller’s office.

It’s the one from his 100th win, a 28-21 first round playoff victory over McNair back in 2004. Almost a week after his 200th career victory, last week against Apalachee, Miller said he has no plans to put up a new case just yet.

“I’m just concerned about getting region win number three,” he said, grinning.

With a career milestone in his rear-view mirror, Miller has his sights set on another Friday night.

The toughest test of the Red Elephants’ early region schedule awaits against Heritage (1-3, 1-2 Region 8-AAAAA) tonight at City Park Stadium. Gainesville’s coach said he “has no idea” how good his team (2-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA) really is after a blowout loss to powerhouse Grayson in the season opener and two blowout wins against Apalachee and Winder-Barrow.

The entire region is proving to be hard to predict, according to Miller. He said he was surprised that Heritage was able to capitalize so efficiently on Flowery Branch’s mistakes last week. The Patriots forced two interceptions and
recovered a fumble in a 35-16 win over the Falcons. That didn’t sound like the Flowery Branch he knew.

“I watched the film of that game and (Heritage) jumped on their mistakes,” Miller said. “They made them pay for it.”

Heritage middle linebacker Seth Fallen returned a fumble for a score last week while Quentin Dixon has tallied two interceptions on the season so far.

With their best talent on defense, the Patriots have held their opponents to an average of 19 points per game.

Heritage coach Wendell Early said his team has “a lot of athletes” who are just starting to figure things out on the offensive and defensive schemes.

Those athletes haven’t had the benefit of much consistency within the program. Early is the team’s third coach in the last three years.

“It’s very difficult for any program to go through that, so it’s been a learning curve, but we expect them to play hard,” Early said. “It’s quite a challenge for us to go up and play in that Gainesville environment.”

Heritage’s defense will meet a Red Elephants offense that’s found consistency under senior quarterback Mikey Gonzalez, who’s averaging 225 yards per game and has thrown for seven touchdowns. Miller said his new quarterback, long the understudy to Gainesville grad and current Clemson starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, has done what it takes to manage the Big Red gameplan.

“We’ve just got to go out there and run our offense,” Gonzalez said before practice on Wednesday. “This year has been very different. Good teams are losing and bad teams are winning, but we’ve just go to watch the film we have and learn from that.”

Heritage has come to rely on its aerial attack ever since starting running back C.J. Stone went down with a season-ending knee injury. Quarterback David Turner threw for 160 yards and two scores in the Patriots’ win last week and has found success in the hands of a corps of senior receivers, including Edwin Fountain and Kenan Johnson. Early said

Turner has put his mark on the offense ever since earning the starting job.

“He’s the guy who runs the show and he has the things that he can do to work for us,” he said. “If he can do what he does and get in their way a little, it’ll be interesting.”

Gainesville’s own defense has the muscle to force turnovers. The Red Elephants forced nine fumbles against Apalachee, including a special teams effort that set up Gonzalez and the offense at the 25-yard line early in the first quarter.

“We’re getting to the football and making things happen,” Miller said.

Gainesville holds a 2-0 edge in its series with Heritage since the teams began playing each other in 2012. The Red Elephants have averaged 45 points per game in those contests.

After a long weekend of congratulatory phone calls and messages, Miller is now focused on trying to improve that mark to 3-0.

“I feel like we’re very evenly matched,” Miller said. “I’m a little anxious about that. Last week, I felt like if we played well, we’d do well. But I think this will be a game where we’ll have to stand in and fight.”

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