Red Elephants 41, Purple Hurricanes 21
Difference maker: Gainesville wide receiver Justin Cantrell had three touchdown catches.
Stat that matters: The Red Elephants' normally pass-heavy offense was much more balanced and finished with 220 yards passing and 213 rushing.
Turning point: Leading 28-21 early in the fourth quarter, Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson connected with Cantrell on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Who's next: Gainesville visits Walnut Grove on Friday in Loganville.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller had a feeling that it would be hard for his team to be ready for Friday's game against Monroe Area at City Park.
After 2« quarters of some sloppy play and failed execution, he knew it was time to switch things up a bit. He said the offensive line gets credit for that decision.
Tied late in the third quarter, the Red Elephants' (6-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAA South) spread offense went to work on the ground behind the running of Rayshon Thomas and scored the go-ahead touchdown and went on to win 41-21 win over the Purple Hurricanes (5-2, 2-1).
Combined with a West Hall (2-5, 2-1) loss to Oconee County, Gainesville now has in the inside track to the subregion title and a spot in the region title game on Nov. 4.
"We knew this one was going to be a big one that we needed," said Miller, who also earned win No. 100 at Gainesville. "Now that we have it, we've just got to see what we'll be able to do with it."
The Red Elephants' coach was concerned about the focus of his team given that Friday was a holiday for students. The peak of the Red Elephants' frustration on offense was when they went three-and-out to open the second half and a 7-yard punt that barely cleared the line of scrimmage with the score tied at 21-all.
Gainesville's defense responded with a stop on Monroe Area's next drive with a fumble recovery on a pass back behind the line of scrimmage. The Purple Hurricanes fumbled four times in the first half, but didn't turn any of those over.
Once Gainesville's offense got the ball back, Miller took the advice of his offensive lineman, who said that running the ball more would work against the Purple Hurricanes' prevent defense. The Red Elephants went on to score on a 13-play, 75-yard drive when Thomas scored his second touchdown on the night with a run from the 3 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
"Our offensive line was just saying that we needed to run the ball," Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson said. "And we believed in them and they were right."
It was Gainesville's most balanced offensive night of the season with 220 passing yards and three touchdown catches by wide receiver Justin Cantrell (10, 4 and 35 yards). The Red Elephants rushed for 213 yards, led by Thomas and his 104 yards and two scores.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gainesville's offense kept up the fast tempo with a touchdown drive that took only 1:15 off the clock. Watson found Cantrell, who made a great catch in front of the defensive back, then got a big block from Tray Harrison for a 35-yard score.
Miller said that ball could have gone either way with the defender in good position, but Cantrell made a good play on the ball.
"That was a big play," Watson said. "I told him that I was going to come back to him after I missed him in the third quarter and he made a great play."
Devan Stringer added a touchdown for Gainesville midway through the fourth quarter on an interception from the 40. The Red Elephants defense held Monroe Area 249 yards of offense.
The Red Elephants now have Walnut Grove (2-5, 1-2) and West Hall remaining to secure the subregion title.
Early on, the Purple Hurricanes controlled the tempo of the game, mainly as the result of a successful fourth down conversion. Trailing 6-0 and facing a fourth and 5, Monroe Area's T.J. Sigmund hit a wide open Floyd McCoy for a 48-yard gain and scored on the next play with a 25-yard run by Monterian Smith.
The Purple Hurricanes took the lead seconds later when the Red Elephants fumbled on the kickoff. McCoy scored only two plays later on a run from the 14 to take a 14-6 lead.
Gainesville managed to tie things up at 14-14 at the end of the first quarter with a 4-yard touchdown catch by Cantrell, followed by a successful two-point conversion catch by Stephen Mason. Mason was Gainesville's biggest deep threat all night with four catches for 120 yards, including a 48-yard catch on that touchdown drive.
Gainesville regained the lead early in the second quarter on a 1:11 touchdown drive, capped by a Thomas touchdown run from the 14. Mason had a 58-yard touchdown catch on that drive.
Monroe Area's final touchdown was on its final drive of the first half with a 33-yard pass to Cody Brown from McCoy. McCoy kept the drive alive with a big 4-yard run on a third and 3. Sigmund added a 31-yard catch on the drive.
Gainesville visits Walnut Grove next Friday in Loganville, while Monroe Area plays host to West Hall at the Purple Pit in Monroe.