Red Elephants 55, Trojans 15
Difference maker: Gainesville High quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for five touchdowns and rushed for three scores.
Stat that matters: Five different Gainesville receivers had a touchdown catch.
Turning point: Leading 14-8, Gainesville's Tray Harrison caught a screen pass and ran 85 yards. Watson scored on a run from the 5 on the next play.
Who's next: North Hall hosts Walnut Grove; Gainesville visits Franklin County next Friday.
With one long 85-yard pass play from Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson to receiver Tray Harrison on Friday, it took all the momentum away from North Hall after its touchdown three plays earlier in the first half at City Park.
It also left the Red Elephants receiver extremely winded and laying on the ground.
“I started cramping at about the 30-yard line and thought about diving for the end zone,” said Harrison, who had two teammates drag him off the field to the sideline after the play. “After I got off the field, I told coach I needed some oxygen.”
After the long second-quarter pass play, Watson scored on a run for one of his eight touchdowns on the night, which helped to put the Trojans (0-3) away in a 55-15 rout.
Watson had a hand in everything Gainesville (2-1) did with its quick-strike, no-huddle offense. He passed for five touchdowns to five separate receivers, and rushed for another three scores, leaving Gainesville coach Bruce Miller even more convinced about Watson’s presence.
“Deshaun is the ultimate team player,” Miller said. “I’m very proud of how he played.”
All combined, Watson rolled up 351 passing yards and rushed for 96. He also left his Red Elephants teammates in awe of the sophomore quarterback’s performance. It was also quite a way to mark the 1,000th game in Gainesville football history.
“Deshaun is like the energizer bunny,” said Red Elephants receiver Lahius Leverette, who scored on an 18-yard pass in the second half. “He works so hard all week in practice and out here, and just a great leader.
“He’s like Jesus on the field.”
But the game-changer was the way Harrison cut across the field on the simple screen from Watson, then with a couple of blocks, almost made the end zone before getting dragged down from behind by a sprinting Trojans defender.
North Hall had scored just a few plays earlier on a 15-play, 77-yard drive engineered by the hard running of senior Imani Cross (24 carries, 125 yards), who scored on a run from the 5.
Harrison’s big catch wiped out a terrible start to the drive with a first-and-30 at the 10 after a pair of holding penalties.
That’s when all 5-foot-5 of Harrison took things into his own hands.
“Tray just ran his little legs off,” Miller said. “That play was clearly what swung the momentum back in our favor.”
And despite a couple of overthrown passes in the first half, the sophomore Watson played like a seasoned veteran once things started clicking.
Most of Gainesville’s plays went for big yards.
Leading 35-15 in the third quarter, Gainesville senior Stephen Mason had a 57-yard touchdown catch on a long, precise spiral from Watson, who started the drive with a 24-yard run. Then in the fourth quarter, Justin Cantrell scored on a 34-yard pass, followed by a 25-yard score rushing by Watson.
Even though North Hall had moderate success rushing the ball, it was no match for Gainesville’s air raid. The Trojans were also hampered by the lack of a passing game.
Still, trailing only 14-0 late in the first quarter, Cross did a nice job of getting the Trojans offense going with steady running that kept the chains moving. It also opened others for North Hall to get in the game running. The Trojans got inside the Red Elephants 10 with an 11-yard run by quarterback Bradley Brown, which set up the first of Cross’ two touchdowns.
Gainesville scored on the game’s first drive with a 21-yard touchdown catch by Harrison, who led all receivers with three catches for 110 yards. Watson scored his first touchdown running later in the first quarter.
Also on the receiving end of a Watson touchdown was running back Jay Gaudlock with a shoe-string catch and score from the 7. That drive opened with a 17-yard run on a keeper by Watson, followed by a 23-yard grab by Leverette (five catches, 56 yards).
After Gaudlock’s score, Gainesville’s Fred Payne intercepted a pass by Cross, setting up Leverette’s score on the next play.
North Hall has its home opener against Walnut Grove at 7:30 Friday night at The Brickyard. Gainesville visits Franklin County on Friday in Carnesville.