Charles James, Oakwood City Council candidate
Pat Jones, Oakwood City Council candidate
KENNESAW — Gainesville outplayed Harrison early but the Hoyas took charge of the second half and eventually the game before winning a 45-24 decision Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs at Bruce Cobleigh Stadium.
“We just ran out of opportunities there in the second half,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “We didn’t take advantage of some our opportunities and I thought (Harrison) did.”
In the first half, it appeared that Harrison was tentative in its first playoff appearance in six years.
Mandrell Banks recovered a Harrison fumble on the second play of Harrison’s opening drive. The Red Elephants capitalized three plays later when Tyriq Kabir scored from the 1.
After Harrison tied it on a Fields 2-yard scramble early in the second quarter, Gainesville recaptured the lead on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Irons.
Irons threw for 157 yards, highlighted by two deep passes of 41 yards and 50 yards to Martavious Davis. KD Smith led in rushing with 69 yards on eight carries.
“That’s what you got to do in the playoffs,” Harrison coach Matt Dickmann said. “In the playoffs, everybody is going to be good and it’s going to be better next week so you have to eliminate your mistakes and take advantage of their mistakes and we did that.”
The Hoyas (10-1) will play at Tucker in the second round next week while Gainesville ends its 2016 campaign with a 5-6 record.
Gainesville carried a 14-10 lead into the break with a chance to add to it when it got the ball first to start the second half. But Harrison’s defense turned it up a notch by getting off the field quickly when Demarcus Irons was sacked twice by Christopher Kalafut and Seth Wymer.
Harrison’s quick stop allowed the Hoyas to get a short field on its first drive of the second half. Starting on his own 47-yard line, quarterback Justin Fields scored five plays later on an 18-yard scramble to give the Hoyas their first lead of the game at 17-14.
Irons was sacked again on Gainesville’s next drive, forcing the Red Elephants to punt from its own 3. That allowed Harrison to start its next drive at the Gainesville 31, and a 25-yard scamper by Fields set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Kalafut to add to Harrison’s lead.
“We felt that we were a little more physical so we went back to the basics (in the second half),” Dickmann said. “And at the end there, we wanted to play at little power football and as glad to see the kids still remembered a lot of the things that we worked on before.”
Gainesville still battled despite the turn of events and cut Harrison’s lead to a touchdown on a 36-yard field goal by Brandon Reyna late in the third quarter to get within seven points.
But Harrison then seized control with two more unanswered touchdowns by Darius Clark to give the Hoyas a commanding 38-17 fourth quarter lead, making it near impossible for Gainesville to rally.
Clark scored on an 18-yard run after Gainesville lost a fumble on the previous play, and he found the end zone again from 3 yards on Harrison’s next drive.
Clark went on to finish the game with 113 yards on 17 carries with three touchdowns, all coming in the second half. His final trip to the end zone came on a 1-yard run with 3:10 left to play to cap the scoring.
Fields completed 16-of-25 pass attempts for 172 yards and rushed for an additional 101 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.