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Football playoffs: Gainesville calm, confident going into first-round matchup against Sprayberry
Red Elephants looking for first playoff win since 2015
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Gainesville's Jarrious Harris (94) and Jeremiah Telander (2) converge on the tackle against Jackson County on Nov. 4, 2022 at City Park Stadium. - photo by Bill Murphy

Just minutes after Gainesville’s football team wrapped up the program’s first 10-0 regular season since 2009 with a 51-0 win over Jackson County, starting quarterback Baxter Wright summed up the team’s attitude about the postseason rather succinctly.

“Now the season starts over,” the 6-3, 170-pound junior signal caller said. “We’re 0-0 again, and we’ve got to go win it.”

That’s just the kind of attitude head coach Josh Niblett and his staff want to hear as the No. 4 Red Elephants try to reach another milestone in this resurgence season for the program when they begin the Class 6A state playoffs with a first-round game against Sprayberry on Friday night at City Park Stadium.

A win would mark Gainesville’s (10-0) first postseason victory since 2015, though as Wright pointed out, the team’s focus is more on the here and now, and there’s plenty of evidence that is the case from everything Niblett has seen in practice this week.

“Everything we talked about this week, starting Sunday, was … leave nothing on the table,” Niblett said. “Our guys know what’s in front of them, so they’re excited. We’ve had a great week of prep, and I think it’s put us in a good mental state right now because I think everybody’s relaxed. I don’t think anybody’s anxious. I think everybody’s ready to play. When it’s like that, you give yourself an opportunity to play relaxed so we can play full speed.”

Playing full speed could be very important against a Sprayberry team that may be more challenging than its 4-6 regular season record indicates.

Three of the Yellow Jackets’ losses have come by only a combined nine points, while two of the others were within two scores. 

They also feature a handful of playmakers, most notably junior quarterback Kemari Nix, who has run for 1,013 yards and 21 touchdowns in the regular season and thrown for 1,102 yards and nine more TDs.

Still, Niblett says the Red Elephants are focused on taking care of their own business with how they play, which will go a long way to dealing with any challenges Sprayberry presents.

“Anytime you’re in the playoffs, I don’t care who you’re playing or what the matchups are, it’s going to break down to fundamentals – blocking and tackling, taking care of the football and getting takeaways on defense,” Niblett said. “So we’ve got to do a really good job of trying to make (Sprayberry) snap the ball again. Make them have to sustain drives, don’t give up big plays. I think if we do that, we’ll be fine.

“We’ve got to tackle (and) we’ve got to run to the ball. Their quarterback is a dynamic guy. He’s hard to get on the ground. He can scramble, but they’ve (also) got a lot of designed quarterback runs for him. They can give you some personnel issues, … but you’ve just got to trust your eyes, trust the plan and just pin your ears back and go play.”

The best news for Gainesville is that it appears the Red Elephants have been progressively better football over the past four weeks, leaving a lot of optimism that their best football of the season is still in front of them.

“I always feel like you come out of the gate and you’re either going to play well or not play well,” Niblett said. “We kind of hit a wall about midseason like everybody kind of does. Then it’s how you come out of that wall … at that point and time in the season where you either let it get the best of you or you grow from it.

“I feel like right now, we want to peak at this time. This is when we want to peak. We didn’t want to peak at Week 5. … Hopefully Friday, trusting in (the process), we’ll see it.”

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