DACULA — A week after snapping its four-game losing streak, the Gainesville High football team ran into another buzzsaw.
The Red Elephants struggled to establish anything offensively and fell victim to big plays in a 28-0 loss to region rival Dacula High on Friday night here at Dacula Stadium. Gainesville (2-5, 1-1 Region 8-6A), which scored twice in the final two minutes to beat Habersham Central last week, averaged about 2 yards per play and converted four of 17 third downs Friday.
“We just had no rhythm offensively,” Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller said. “When we did find some rhythm, we’d have a bad snap or negative play. We got manhandled up front, and we’ve got to be much tougher there. They came at us, and we didn’t respond.”
Miller still came away pleased with the performance of his defense, which allowed only one sustained scoring drive and frequently forced punts even in bad field position.
Junior Jalen Perry, a 4-star recruit per 247sports.com, scored on runs of 84 and 73 yards for the Falcons (3-4, 2-0). Perry has drawn offers from major college programs like Georgia, Auburn and Alabama.
Gainesville’s offense particularly struggled in the first half, producing just 35 total yards and two first downs while converting only one of eight third downs. But its defense kept things close by standing tall twice in the red zone, forcing Dacula field goals that went wide of the uprights.
“I thought our defense played well, well enough for us to win,” Miller said. “But we’ve got to be better on offense and find some kind of rhythm.”
Dacula didn’t have much of a rhythm either, yet it opened the scoring about five minutes in when Perry took a jet sweep 84 yards for a touchdown. He averaged more than 25 yards per carry in the Falcons’ run-oriented spread offense and also hauled in two catches for 53 yards.
But the Red Elephants’ bend-but-don’t-break defense went on to make stop after stop until Dacula’s final drive of the half. The Falcons ripped off five straight runs of 8 or more yards, picking up four of their 12 first downs on the night, before senior quarterback Shayne Buckingham plunged into the end zone from 6 yards out.
A roughing the kicker infraction on a punt gave Gainesville a second chance to score before halftime, but junior quarterback Tre’ Luttrell was tackled while scrambling near midfield as time expired.
The Red Elephants appeared to finally turn a corner offensively on the first play of the second half, but things ultimately went awry.
Gainesville completed a 26-yard pass to midfield only to fumble. Sophomore defensive tackle AJ Toliver recorded a third-down sack on Dacula’s ensuing possession to nullify the turnover, but the Red Elephants still struggled to produce offensively as the game wore on.
Perry again flashed his big-play potential with two minutes left in the third quarter, taking an option pitch from Buckingham 73 yards for a touchdown.
“That kid is a Division I prospect, and he’s just too fast,” Miller said. “We let him get loose two or three times, and when you’ve got a kid with that kind of speed, you’re going to have a hard time running him down.”
Gainesville got inside the red zone twice in the fourth quarter but came away with a missed field goal and turnover on downs. The Red Elephants fumbled in the shadow of their goal line with about seven minutes remaining, setting up Buckingham’s 1-yard touchdown dive to seal the game.
Luttrell, who was constantly under pressure, completed 17 of 30 passes for 103 yards. He also rushed 31 times for just 46 yards, and the team lost 39 yards as a result of four poor snaps.
Things don’t get any easier moving forward for Gainesville, which travels to face No. 8 Winder-Barrow (7-0, 2-0) next Friday. Though the Red Elephants’ situation looked dire Friday night, Miller maintained some optimism.
“The season is never over,” he said. “We can always find things we need to improve and then get better at them. I told the kids to reach inside of themselves and find one thing that they need to improve going forward, and we can hopefully do that.”