For the second-straight year, the Gainesville High football team’s playoff stint was cut significantly short.
The fourth-seeded Red Elephants fell to No. 1 seed Alpharetta, 40-24, in the opening round of the Class 6A tournament Friday night in Alpharetta.
Gainesville’s season came to a close after the squad secured its 18th straight playoff appearance. The Red Elephants (4-7) reached the postseason by overcoming a 1-4 start to the year and winning three of their last five, preserving the school’s longstanding tradition.
“You can’t fault them,” Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller said. “Some things didn’t go our way there at the end. But we played hard, and that’s all you can ask out of your kids. ... At times we had our chances, but I thought we played hard the whole game and there was no quit in us.”
Gainesville found the board first with a Christian Jaimes field goal on the game’s second drive. But Alpharetta (10-1) forced four turnovers — three in the first half alone — and the Raiders used a balanced attack on offense to blow past the Red Elephants. Gainesville quarterback Tre’ Luttrell was also sacked three times.
The Region 7-6A champs move on to play No. 2 Douglas County next Friday night.
A DT Walker interception and Luttrell (22 of 37, 242 yards) passing touchdown cut Alpharetta’s lead to two scores late in the third quarter, but the Raiders still caught enough breaks.
Gainesville was pinned on its own 2-yard-line following a beautifully executed special team's play by Marcus Webster, who chased down a punt and swatted the ball just before the endzone as he tumbled out of bounds. A holding penalty called from inside the endzone resulted in a safety with 7 minutes, 34 seconds left to play. Not long after, defensive back Jake Tice picked off Luttrell, who was intercepted twice, with less than two minutes left to play to seal it.
Senior running back Nolan Edmonds recorded 266 all-purpose yards and totaled three touchdowns for the Raiders. He accounted for the longest play of the night during the third quarter, taking a kickoff 98 yards down the visitor’s sideline and into the end zone for his final score.
It came one play after Gainesville opened the second half with a touchdown drive capped by senior linebacker-turned-tailback Keith Harris, who bulldozed his way for a 9-yard scoring plunge and cut the Raiders’ lead to 31-17.
Alpharetta scored 21 points off of three Gainesville turnovers to build a 31-10 halftime lead. Raiders quarterback Matthew Downing (9 of 22, 159 yards) tossed two passing touchdowns of 36 and 15 yards.
“(Alpharetta’s) a good football team,” Miller said. “You know, we had our chances to make plays. We did at times, and then we didn’t. You know, we dug ourselves in a little hole before the second half. But the biggest thing is we asked our kids not to quit, and they didn’t.”
Edmonds scored his first rushing touchdown of the night on a designed fake jet sweep, taking the handoff up the gut 39 yards. Edmonds later stretched Alpharetta’s lead to 24-3 midway through the second quarter, taking a screen pass and weaving his way toward the left pylon for a 36-yard touchdown.
The largest chunk of Gainesville’s yardage came on a 68-yard touchdown connection from Luttrell to Jared Rosser on the last play of the first half.
Miller says farewell to 21 seniors, including Harris, Jaimes and Tyriq Kabir.
“I’m proud of our seniors, and I’m proud of their fight,” Miller said. “We’ll get back, try to honor them with the banquet this year, and then get to work on next year.”