Gainesville had a few too many mistakes Friday against Lanier. However, there’s not much time to dwell on it.
The Red Elephants (4-6, 3-2 Region 8-6A) open the postseason in just six days.
Trailing by a touchdown late with 97 yards left to go, Red Elephants quarterback Tre’ Luttrell missed an open receiver with less than a minute left to play as they fell to Lanier, 27-14, at City Park Stadium.
Now, Gainesville turns around and faces Alpharetta in the opening round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Friday. In Week 2 of the regular season, Alpharetta topped Gainesville 29-7.
Lanier’s Larry Harper punched it on for its final score on a run play as time expired. The Longhorns’ defense also had an interception.
“We made three or four mental mistakes that really hurt us,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “The overthrows, the interception, the fumbled kickoff, their long pass. I talked to the guys about that. You can’t give up big plays and win games. And we didn’t get any consistency on offense. But we battled and almost overcame it. The kids played hard. We just didn’t make enough plays to win the game.”
Gainesville finished the game with 250 yards of offense. Luttrell threw for 151 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, while senior Keith Harris rushed for 57 yards.
Meanwhile for the Longhorns, quarterback Zach Calzada connected on 8 of 15 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns as Lanier totaled just 11 more yards than Gainesville with 261. Harper had 82 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns for the Longhorns (6-4, 3-3).
“I feel like every time we play Gainesville it’s that type of game,” Lanier coach Korey Mobbs said, after his program won the fourth straight in the series.
“It’s just two good programs going at it. Bruce does a tremendous job over there. We just grinded it out and made a few more plays. They’ll be a tough out for Alpharetta next week.”
The big play of the game occurred on the second play of the fourth quarter as a busted coverage led to a wide-open Zach Charles, who Calzada hit for a 79-yard touchdown pass for a 21-14 lead. The Red Elephants had just tied the score at 14-14 early in the third quarter on an 11-play, 64-yard drive capped by an 18-yard Luttrell touchdown scramble on a bootleg.
The night didn’t start out well for the Red Elephants as a miscommunication by Hayes and Tre Blackwell on the opening kickoff led to a fumble that Lanier’s O’Darion Thompson recovered at Gainesville’s 7-yard line. Two plays later, Harper scored from 3 yards out, giving the Longhorns a 7-0 lead just 45 seconds into the game.
From there it was tough sledding for both teams offensively with Lanier tallying just 112 total yards in the first half to Gainesville’s 129. Each team had one efficient drive in the first half. The Longhorns went 63 yards on 11 plays and took more than 6 minutes to score after Calzada tossed a 10-yard strike to Mekal Fuller in the back of the end zone for a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. Gainesville drew back within a touchdown when Luttrell punched it in on a run from the 2 after a 12-play, 80-yard drive.
Gainesville’s quarterback finished with 28 yards on the ground.
“That was the plan,” Mobbs said. “He’s a really good player. They go on him. He makes plays with his feet and extends plays throwing the ball down field when he escapes the pocket, so yeah we wanted to keep him contained in the pocket. I think our guys just tackled really well tonight, but he’s a tough player.”
Gainesville crossed midfield on five of its 10 drives but couldn’t hit the big play against a stout Longhorns defense. It squandered a great opportunity to score late in the first half when Luttrell just missed a wide-open Jarred Rosser in what would have been a 64-yard touchdown run. Rosser led Gainesville with seven receptions for 59 yards.