CLEVELAND — There's something about White County that brings the tricks out of Gainesville.
A year removed from debuting their Wildcat offense, the Red Elephants unveiled a new weapon Friday night: linebacker A.J. Johnson as a quarterback.
"I hope they call it ‘Gorilla,'" said Johnson, who rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown in Gainesville's 31-22 win over White County. "I've been practicing this all week and was hoping I'd be able to get in this quick."
Johnson approached Gainesville coach Bruce Miller earlier this week and told him he wanted to be more involved in the offense. While it certainly was a good idea, Miller hoped to keep this trick in his back pocket.
"I was hoping we didn't have to show that (Friday)," Miller said. "We did what we had to do to win the game."
Credit the Warriors (1-1) for forcing Miller's hand.
Entrenched in a defensive battle in the second half, the two teams traded possessions before White County capped a 14-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Cole Segraves to Adam Hooper that cut the Gainesville lead to 25-22.
With his offense in a rut, Miller called on Johnson to take the snaps and use his 6-foot-3, 235-pound body to pound through the White County defense.
The move worked to perfection. Johnson ran the ball six times for 59 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run to seal the win.
"People don't pound it down our throats, but he did that," White County coach Gregg Segraves said. "We knew we had a chance coming into this game, and even though we lost, I still know we had a chance to win."
Especially seeing how the game started with a Gainesville fumble on the opening kickoff.
Five plays later, quarterback Cole Segraves found his brother, Cam, wide open in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Not to be outdone by his quarterbacking counterpart, Gainesville freshman Deshaun Watson connected on a short pass to Keyontra Harrison two series later for a 65-yard touchdown. Harrison, who caught the pass 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, used his speed and agility to get to the sideline and past every Warrior defender.
"We had some guys make some terrific plays," said Miller, whose team has now defeated White County nine straight times and 12 of the 13 meetings. "This took a whole team effort."
It also took another solid performance from Watson, who completed 14 of his 22 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns to earn his first varsity win.
"It's exciting," said Watson, who scored on a 1-yard run to give Gainesville a 19-7 lead. "This builds my confidence to come in here against a team like White County and play as well as I did."
His first win wouldn't have happened if not for the play of his receivers like Harrison, who led the team with 117 yards on six catches and Stephen Mason, who had 36 yards receiving and a touchdown that capped a well-executed 2-minute drill to end the first half.
Mason's touchdown answered a 10-yard touchdown run by Ashely Lowery, who was held to just 12 yards rushing.
"Our defense played their butts off," Miller said. "We're coming along."
A week after surrendering 347 yards to Buford, the Red Elephants defense gave up 235 yards to White County and scored a touchdown on special teams.
On the ensuing kickoff after Harrison's touchdown, Gainesville forced a fumble and the ball bounced right into the arms of Johnson, who strolled untouched into the end zone.
With momentum on their side, the Red Elephants used the big play to set up their next score. Faced with a third-and-14 from his own 40, Watson lofted a pass down the field and into double coverage. As the ball reached the pack of players, Gainesville senior Michael Lorentz leaped higher than the two Warriors around him and came down with a remarkable 52-yard reception.
Three plays later, Watson scored from the 1.