For nearly three full games earlier this season, Gainesville High quarterback Tre’ Luttrell had to watch from the sidelines while nursing a shoulder injury.
Coaches held him out of almost the entire second half Friday night, too — only for a much better reason.
The Red Elephants built a big lead and coasted to a 35-12 win against Region 8-6A foe Apalachee High at City Park Stadium in Gainesville. Luttrell and several other starters went to the bench early in the third quarter as Gainesville (4-5, 3-1 region) locked up a playoff berth for the 18th consecutive season.
Though the Red Elephants are still in contention to host a first-round playoff game, coach Bruce Miller didn’t discuss postseason implications with his team following Friday’s game.
“We aren’t worried about it,” Luttrell said. “We’re going to enjoy this weekend, enjoy Homecoming and come in to watch film on Monday. … But there’s still definitely an excitement knowing we’re in the playoffs, and now we’re fighting for home-field advantage.”
Luttrell recorded 248 total yards — splitting them evenly on the ground and through the air — along with a 5-yard rushing touchdown and 43-yard passing score that served as his final play of the evening.
That big performance came after the junior earned recognition as The Times’ Player of the Week for his role in Gainesville’s 38-16 upset of then-No. 8 Winder-Barrow last Friday. Now fully healthy, Luttrell has the Red Elephants back on track after a four-game losing streak in non-region play.
“(Last week’s win) kind of carried over into this week,” Miller said. “On offense, we’ve found something that works for us, and our defense did a great job of not giving them anything tonight.”
The 16th-year Red Elephants coach wasn’t exaggerating.
Gainesville allowed just 28 yards and one first down that didn’t come via penalty before backups began rotating onto the field. Senior linebacker Craig Young tallied two of his team’s three sacks against the Wildcats (1-8, 0-4), who were eliminated from playoff contention.
Luttrell, meanwhile, had Gainesville’s offense humming to touchdowns on five of the seven drives he engineered. Junior running back Quintavious Hayes scored twice on option pitches from his quarterback near the goal line before Luttrell called his own number for a 21-0 lead.
“I really feel comfortable out there now coming back from the injury,” Luttrell said.
Sophomore running back JD Brooks rumbled through two tacklers and dragged a third into the end zone on his 25-yard score with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
Then senior receiver Tyriq Kabir showed his elusiveness when he brought in a short pass, turned outside and raced through a pair of ankle tackles to put the Red Elephants ahead 35-0 before the 10-minute mark of the third quarter.
Miller started shuffling his reserves into the game from there, and Apalachee scored both its touchdowns during the fourth quarter.
“It was good for the young guys to get some reps tonight,” Luttrell said. “We won, and that’s all that matters. But the first half was still a lot of fun. The backs ran really well, and the guys up front played great.”
It all appears to be coming together at the right time for Gainesville, which can clinch the region’s No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff home game by beating Lanier (5-4, 2-2) in the regular-season finale next Friday in Gainesville.
But the Red Elephants were more than content to soak in Friday’s win and the continuation of their remarkable playoff streak.
“I just feel blessed to be at a place where tradition is important,” Miller said. “They say you’re only as good as your last game, so right now I’m feeling all right. But we’ve still got to come out next week and get it done.”