Momentum is a fickle thing.
The Gainesville High football team had it in the first half Friday night, taking a two-touchdown lead to intermission against Habersham Central. Then the Raiders took it in the second half, scoring 21 consecutive points to take a touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter at City Park Stadium.
But the Red Elephants reclaimed momentum when it mattered, scoring on their final two possessions for a 30-27 win in Gainesville in the Region 8-6A opener for both teams.
“We never quit,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “That’s a tribute to our guys. They had every chance to duck their heads, and they didn’t. They kept fighting and made some great plays on that final drive.”
Trailing 27-20 with less than two minutes remaining and facing a fourth and 17 at their own 19-yard line, Gainesville quarterback Tre Luttrell took the snap, avoided pressure behind the line of scrimmage for what seemed like an eternity and lobbed the ball to Tre Blackwell. The receiver came back for it at the 35-yard line before outracing the Raiders’ secondary to the end zone to tie the game in front of a shocked crowd.
“Unbelievable,” Red Elephants senior linebacker Keith Harris, who finished with three sacks, said of the heave, “It blew our minds. It was amazing. We couldn’t believe it.”
After a quick three-and-out by Habersham Central (1-5, 0-1 region), the Red Elephants (2-4, 1-0) got the ball back at the Raiders’ 38-yard line following a 19-yard punt. Luttrell then rushed for 20 yards on third down to set up Christian Jaimes’ 35-yard field goal with less than two seconds remaining.
Habersham Central fielded the kickoff but couldn’t do anything with it as time expired with the Gainesville players storming the field.
The night started out in typical fashion for Habersham Central, which entered the game as Class 6A’s best offense with 44.2 points per game. On the first play from scrimmage, Raiders quarterback A.J. Curry hit former Gainesville receiver Jim Barnett (85 yards on five catches) on a 48-yard bomb.
Baylor Hinshaw (91 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries) plunged into the end zone from 2 yards out, but the extra point went awry.
Luttrell (22 of 33) shredded Habersham Central’s defense on the read-option, setting up a 35-yard field goal and later scoring on a 43-yard rush to give his team an early 10-6 lead.
“Coach Miller and our staff did a great job preparing us on what they were going to do on defense this week,” Luttrell said. “A heavy part of our offense is the read-option game. Plus, I love running the ball, so the game plan was good.”
The junior quarterback also connected with Tyriq Kabir on a 31-yard touchdown pass. Luttrell racked up 160 rushing yards as the Red Elephants produced 514 total yards.
The Raiders gained only 317 total yards but made a furious comeback in the second half. Hinshaw ripped off two scoring runs, and Curry (15 of 28 for 178 yards) then scored on an 8-yard keeper after the Red Elephants fumbled a punt.
But then Gainesville sparked its own rally, starting with Luttrell’s miracle heave to Blackwell.
“Our goal was just to get the first down, and I saw a guy get to the sticks,” Luttrell said. “But I saw Tre downfield, and the line did a great job protecting, and he did a great job of getting open. We made the play.”
Gainesville is at Dacula next Friday, while Habersham Central hosts Lanier.