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Excellent night by sophomore QB Baxter Wright carries Gainesville past Flowery Branch 42-35
Gainesville football 2021
Gainesville quarterback Baxter Wright (11) runs in for a touchdown against Flowery Branch on Sept. 10, 2021 at City Park Stadium in Gainesville. Photo by Bill Murphy

The anticipated football matchup between Flowery Branch High and Gainesville High was the talk of the week.

Everyone wanted to see which team or player was going to provide the biggest performance to come away victorious. 

In the end, Gainesville (2-1) used its entire playbook and Baxter Wright put on an efficient performance to beat Flowery Branch 42-35 at Bobby Gruhn Field on Friday night.

Gainesville head coach Heath Webb sounded relieved the game was over after executing the game plan.

“Scoring a bunch of points, that was the key,” Webb said. “They are so dynamic on offense. They have a lot of playmakers. We knew we were going to score a bunch. I am really proud of our offense they way it came out there performed tonight.”

Gainesville had 396 yards of total offense against a quality Flowery Branch (2-1) defense. The Red Elephants did what it needed to control the ball and set the pace of the game. 

One of those offensive standouts was Wright.

The sophomore signal caller delivered in the moments Gainesville needed the most, including during the last drive of the game. Wright took the snap on fourth down and busted out for 23 yards on the ground to seal the game.

Wright finished the night 21-for-23 passing for 270 yards and also added 17 carries for 67 yards with two touchdowns (one passing and one rushing).

“He played his guts out tonight,” Webb said. “There might be a debate tonight on who was the best quarterback on field was tonight. I am really proud of his development. As he goes, our offense has gone. I am glad he is going to be on my team for the next few years.”

From the opening drive, Wright took control of the offense. 

He remained poised and virtually elusive against a Flowery Branch defense that was locked in on running back Naim Cheeks. 

Wright took advantage of whatever gaps he could find as Gainesville spread the Falcons defense out across the field.

He also made sure to answer any scoring opportunity Flowery Branch put on the board. The Falcons’ Seth Larson tied the game, 14-14, on a 98-yard kickoff return. While the Red Elephant faithful sat stunned, Wright orchestrated a drive that concluded with him scoring an 11-yard touchdown run. 

On the teams ensuing possession, he connected with Ja’Quez Sims for a 12-yard touchdown pass just giving the Red Elephants a 28-14 lead just before the half.

This is when Webb saw the maturation of his quarterback.

“It was on-going,” Webb said. “You had to go out make a drive and score. Then we had to go do it again. So the fact he kept answering the bell made that a breakout moment for him.”

Gainesville’s offense showed it was willing to open the playbook and not overwork the talented Cheeks. 

Gainesville offensive coordinator Chad Bennett made sure Flowery Branch would have to defend the entire field. Cheeks had 15 carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns. Marquis Ross had an eight-yard run to open the game. Balance for Gainesville is not about running the ball or passing the ball evenly, it wants to force teams to play them in space.

“Baxter has done a pretty good job spreading the football around,” Webb said. “Coach Bennett has done a great job calling plays to spread the ball around. That’s balance to us. It is not 50-50 run pass. Balance for us is spreading the ball out where you cannot focus on No. 9 (Cheeks). If you stop No. 9 you win the ball game. No, you have to defend the entire field.”

Flowery Branch made some adjustments in the second half. Falcons’ quarterback David Renard threw a 26-yard pass to John David Peacock to cut the lead 28-21 in the third. Things were looking up for the defense. It forced Gainesville’s offense off the field. Flowery Branch was driving down the field. 

However, the Red Elephants’ Dre Raven took an intercepted pass to the house to help extend the lead.

Renard finished the evening with 241 yards passing and three touchdowns (two passing and rushing). 

His 10-yard pass to Myles Ivey cut the Gainesville lead 35-38. 

Ivey finished with 93-yards rushing and a touchdown.

Gainesville hosts Forsyth Central on Friday, Flowery Branch hosts Hiram on Sept. 17. 

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