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Gainesville begins preparation for first round of football playoffs against Alpharetta
Red Elephants lost to Raiders, 27-9, in the regular season
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Gainesville High's Keith Harris stiff arms Apalachee's AJ Millbrooks while carrying the ball for the Red Elephants Friday night October 27, 2017 during the first half of their Region 8 AAAAAA win at City Park Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

Tre’ Luttrell can find plenty of motivation for the Gainesville High football team’s first-round playoff matchup without lingering on the fact that it’s a rematch of a regular-season game against Alpharetta. 

Gainesville’s junior quarterback is much more concerned about keeping his team from being the first at the school to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2007. Luttrell, the articulate and physically gifted first-year quarterback for the Red Elephants (4-6), also wants the program to be one of the teams across the state with a No. 4 seed to open the postseason with a win against a region champion. 

“Gainesville has as much tradition as any school in northeast Georgia,” said Luttrell, who separated his left shoulder on a touchdown run on the final play of the first half in the Aug. 25 meeting against Alpharetta (9-1). “People are used to seeing Gainesville playing deep into the postseason every year — third round, state semifinals and even a couple state championship games.”

So the fact that Gainesville is travelling to Alpharetta for the second time this season? Well, that matters very little to Luttrell.

“This is playoff time, so we have to be ready to play anyone,” said Luttrell. “The regular season is over now.”

According to Luttrell, the week started on a good note with a physical practice Monday. Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller described the first time on the practice field this week as a “little edgy,” with players still salty from Friday’s loss to Lanier. 

A win in that game could have meant a home game at City Park Stadium to open the Class 6A tournament.

“I felt like we really got after it in practice (Monday),” said Miller, who has Gainesville in the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season. 

Alpharetta won the regular-season game against Gainesville 27-9. The Raiders are hosting a first-round playoff game for the first time since 2014. 

The Raiders, who are region champions for the fourth time since 2011, have a balanced offensive attack behind quarterback Matthew Downing, who has thrown for 1,837 yards and 17 touchdowns. This season, Alpharetta has shown balance with 1,858 passing yards and 1,693 rushing yards.

Despite his injury, Luttrell stayed in for the second half of the regular-season game against Alpharetta. Gainesville’s quarterback said the injury transpired when he was tripped by a defender upon reaching the end zone for the touchdown. 

Even with the offensive troubles in the Week 2 meeting, Luttrell said the Red Elephants’ defense played well and held the Raiders to five field goals in the second half.  

“Alpharetta has a very athletic team,” Miller said. “The first time we played them this season, we just didn’t play well on offense.”

Luttrell returned healthy at quarterback for Gainesville in time for region play and is now at 100 percent, according to Miller. 

“The key to Gainesville’s offense is the quarterback,” Alpharetta coach Jacob Nichols said. “He’s a tremendous player who definitely has to be accounted for on every single play.

“Just when you think you have him bottled up, he finds a way to make a big play. This time of year, that’s a luxury that not all teams are lucky enough to have.”

In his more than 40 years coaching, Miller said he has never coached against a team in the first round of the playoffs that his team faced in the regular season. Gainesville last faced a regular-season rematch in the first round of the playoffs in 1991 with a postseason game against Loganville. 

For Alpharetta, it fields four Division-I pledges: Defensive back Jaycee Horn (Tennessee), offensive lineman Oyenmwen Uzebu (West Virginia), wide receiver Spencer Gaddis (Western Kentucky) and defensive tackle Deporess Schletty (Western Kentucky).

The Raiders’ defense held the opposition to single-digit points in four of eight region games this season. 

“Alpharetta is big up front, solid at linebacker and has very good athletes in the secondary,” Luttrell said. 

While Miller’s staff has no experience in a first-round playoff rematch of the regular season, his 2004 Gainesville team upset 10-0 McNair 28-21 on the road in the first round of the playoffs.

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