For the past two years, the Gainesville Red Elephants have made a habit of blowing out their first-round opponents.
They wasted little time ensuring that trend continued.
Markece Robertson and Devon Pierce each scored three touchdowns, combining for five in the first half, to lead the fifth-ranked Red Elephants to a 49-20 win over Haralson County during the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs Friday at City Park.
Gainesville (10-1) plays host to Cedar Grove, a 30-24 win over Cartersville on Friday, in the second round.
The Rebels (3-8) helped Gainesville (10-1) jump out to an early lead thanks to a failed attempt at a cross-field lateral on the opening kickoff. Lahius Leverette jumped on the ball and two plays later, Robertson rumbled in for a 3-yard touchdown.
"It came so fast and got us hype," Robertson said of the early miscue. "The momentum shifted so quickly."
Although grateful the play didn't work, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller wasn't surprised that it occurred.
"Probably coming in, they figured they had to do something," said Miller, whose teams have outscored their first-round opponents by an average of 33 points the last three years. "But it backfired, and thank goodness it did. "There were several things that happened early that gave us momentum."
One of those included a fumble recovery by A.J. Johnson during Haralson County's next possession that set up Robertson's second touchdown of the night.
After taking over on the Gainesville 40, freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson found Keyontra Harrison over the middle for a 48-yard gain. Two plays later, Robertson scampered in from 6 yards out to give Gainesville a 14-0 lead.
"We did what we had to do and came out ready to play," said Robertson, who finished with 82 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Haralson answered that touchdown late in the first quarter on an 89-yard run by Antoinne Phillips, who scored again in the fourth quarter and led the Rebels with 230 yards on 20 carries.
"I knew going in he was a real good running back," Miller said. "He got loose once on our first-team defense, but after that, they pretty much shut him down."
The same couldn't be said for the Rebels' defense, which surrendered two touchdowns to Pierce and another to Robertson before halftime. Pierce scored on runs from the 14 and 1 that gave Gainesville a commanding 28-7 lead. He capped an eight-play drive to start the third quarter with a 12-yard touchdown.
"That's my brother right there," Robertson said of Pierce. "We talked about having great years before the season even started."
The pair of running backs can thank Tray Harrison for setting up the majority of their touchdowns. The 5-foot-5 receiver led the team with 122 receiving yards and scored on a 28-yard reverse in the third quarter for the Red Elephants' final touchdown.
"We've been studying all week and executing all week," said Harrison, who finished with 174 yards of total offense. "This group is similar to last year. We got our heads focused and we're taking it one game at a time."
The contributions from Robertson, Harrison and Pierce is further proof that this year's Gainesville team just might make a deep playoff run like last year's that went to the state finals.
"It feels good to be able to contribute every week," Robertson said. "It makes it feel like it's ours. Last year's group was their's, but it's our time now.
"Our goal is the (Georgia) Dome," he added. "That's where our minds are at."
One first-round win won't get them there, but Miller knows this team and its unity will do everything it can to get back to the finals.
"This is a true team," Miller said. "They're gonna fight you to the nth degree and they'll play hard to the very end."