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FOOTBALL NOTES: Gainesville QB Baxter Wright adds to early legacy with gritty outing against Hillgrove
Gainesville football 2021
Gainesville quarterback Baxter Wright (11) runs with the ball in the third quarter against John's Creek in the Corky Kell Classic on Aug. 20, 2021 at City Park Stadium. Photo by Bill Murphy

The legend of Baxter Wright continues to grow at Gainesville. 

The prolific sophomore quarterback for the Red Elephants (4-1, 1-0 Region 6-7A) has dazzled with his arm, particularly the 21 of 23 throwing night for 296 yards against Flowery Branch on Sept. 10. 

However, what the tall right-hander did against Hillgrove on Sept. 24 was equally, if not more, impressive. 

Still feeling the lingering effects of strep throat, Wright put on a gritty performance against Hillgrove, winning 20-7. 

Despite not feeling close to 100 percent, Wright had a clutch touchdown run early in the second quarter, pushing the Red Elephants’ lead to 10-0. 

After it was over, Gainesville coach Heath Webb was beaming with pride. 

“I told Baxter, he’s gonna have a lot of games where he throws for more than 300 yards, but this game is one he’ll remember for a long time,” Webb said. 

During the week, not knowing if Wright would be able to be able to take the field against Hillgrove, Webb was weighing his options for an emergency quarterback. 

His first pick at backup, Webb said, was freshman Cash O’Callaghan, a transplant from Northern California, who has seen some action in 2021. 

The biggest workhorse for Gainesville, with Wright still a bit under the weather, was speedy junior tailback Naim Cheeks who picked up 126 yards on the ground. 

For the season, Wright has completed 76 percent of this throws for 835 yards and four touchdowns. 

Gainesville’s QB has 236 yards on the ground in 2021. 

Here's more football notes from Week 6 action. 

1. COLEY BACK IN THE MIX FOR THE BIG RED: Gainesville was also bolstered with the return against Hillgrove of senior defensive end Qua Coley, who was out the first four games for undisclosed reasons. In his absence, senior first-year player Tyvez Bledson, a converted safety, has impressed at defensive end and will continue to be on the field at the same position, Webb said. 

2. RUN, JAYQUAN, RUN: There’s no such thing as an off night for Cherokee Bluff’s electric running back Jayquan Smith. 

The region opener against Gilmer in Week 6 was further proof of his prowess out of the backfield. 

Smith, who was limited in the amount of carries in the first four games, carried the ball 17 times for 255 yards against Gilmer

Now, Smith stands at 626 yards on just 60 carries (10.2 yards per attempt) for the defending region champions. It marked the second most single-game yards for the third-year back at Cherokee Bluff, only behind his 300-yard night at Dawson County in 2020.

Cherokee Bluff’s running back, who holds an offer from Yale, among many others, is a huge part of its offense that is averaging 54 points per contest through the midway point of the regular season. 

Up next, the Bears (5-0, 1-0 Region 7-3A) host West Hall on Friday in Flowery Branch. 

Right now, it looks like Cherokee Bluff’s last major hurdle in repeating in 7-3A will be against North Hall (3-2, 1-0) on Oct. 29 at Lynn Cottrell Stadium in Gainesville. 

3. ROCHESTER HOLDING HIS OWN: North Hall has a long tradition of talented running backs. In 2021, it’s senior Kevin Rochester’s turn and he’s making the most of it. 

Through five games, he has 681 yards on 96 attempts and nine touchdowns. 

With five region games left in the regular season, and Rochester almost a lock to see more carries than in the four non-region games to start the season, he’s almost certain to reach the magical 1,000-yard club. 

And, thus, Rochester will likely continue a long run of 1,000-yard runners in the Trojans’ backfield. 

Rochester, who almost had 900 yards as a junior in 2020, had big shoes to fill after the graduation of Clark Howell (1,716 yards in 2020). 

Recent North Hall running backs to go over 1,000 yards in a season are JT Fair (2019), Dan Jackson (2018) and Kyle Bacus (2016). 

In 2013, the Trojans’ Zac Little and Andrew Smith both rushed for more than 1,000 yards. 

4. THINGS LOOKING BRIGHT FOR THE FALCONS: No. 5 Flowery Branch (3-2, 0-1 Region 8-4A) got its region matchup against top-ranked juggernaut Jefferson (5-0, 1-0 Region 8-4A) out of the way early, a respectable 27-7 loss. 

Now, it’s looking up for the Falcons, who are looking again to open the state playoffs in South Hall. 

After a bye Friday, Flowery Branch visits North Oconee on Oct. 8 in Bogart. 

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