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Preview: Rested Red Elephants gearing up for region battle against Lanier on Friday
Off bye week, Gainesville about to have its final week off this season
Gainesville's Carmelo Byrd (23) leads the way on the tackle against Mountain View on Aug. 26, 2022 at City Park Stadium in Gainesville. - photo by Bill Murphy

With last week’s open date and another bye looming a week from now, things have been pretty quiet around Gainesville’s football program lately.

At least, that’s how it looks from the outside.

Inside the program, however, head coach Josh Niblett, his staff and the No. 5 state-ranked Red Elephants (5-0, 1-0 in Region 8-6A) have actually been pretty busy working on some areas need improvement, healing some minor bumps and bruises and generally trying to stay sharp and engaged.

Gainesville will get a test to how well those tasks have been accomplished when it travels just down the road to Sugar Hill to take on Lanier (2-3, 1-0) in region action Friday night at Lanier Community Stadium.

“It’s like life. It’s how you approach it,” Niblett said of the quirk in the schedule that will see Friday’s contest being Gainesville’s only game action from Sept. 17 though Oct. 14. “We can approach it one way or another. My job is to keep things positive and understand and figure out how to approach the week.

“We’ve been trying to take the things that have been going good, but could be better, and try and improve on them. The things that haven’t been what we’ve wanted, we’ve been working to improve on, and we’re just looking at keeping our edge sharp. Maybe there are some things to work on schematically, … and when you get to this point of the season, people get banged up and we need to build up our depth.”

As much as the Red Elephants continue to look inward at themselves, there is still an opponent to also prepare for in Lanier, which came up with a much-needed 25-21 win over Habersham Central in its region opener last week.

The Longhorns, under first-year coach Tyler Maloof, feature a handful of offensive playmakers like leading rusher Kaden Beard (100 carries, 632 yards, 1 TD), quarterback Preston Ratliff (40-74-2, 630 yards, 4 TDs passing) and receiver Chase Jameson (16-344, 3 TDs).

Additionally, Lanier features a solid, multiple defense that will provide a challenge for the Gainesville offense, which has been quite productive behind quarterback Baxter Wright (64-87-2, 1,007 yards, 9 TDs), who is averaging more than 200 yards per game through he air to a variety of targets, including five different receivers: Darius Cannon, Tre Reece, Naim Cheeks, Trevan Watson and Sky Niblett – who all have at least 11 receptions each on the season.

“The thing with (Lanier) is that they’re big and athletic,” Niblett said. “Offensively, they’ve got a big back who you’ve got to tackle because they’re looking for an opportunity to get rolling downhill, but do so off the tackles.

“Defensively, they do a little bit of everything and pick and choose their opportunities to bring pressure. So we’ve got to do a good job of picking that up. Special teams, they have a good returner. We’ve been doing a pretty good job, but we’ve also given up a few big plays. That’s something we’ve got to get better at. The biggest thing is we’ve got to control the things we can control.”

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