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High school football: Gainesville falls flat in home loss to Jefferson
Gainesville's Lanny Chatman carries the ball during a game against Jefferson on Sept. 20 in Gainesville. - photo by Bill Murphy

Gainesville coach Heath Webb came into Friday night’s game against Jefferson with one primary goal: win at the line of scrimmage. 

And while the Red Elephants moved the ball well at times against the Dragons, the consistency in the trenches was simply not there. All of Gainesville’s first half drives stalled, causing the team to fall into an early hole in a 41-7 defeat that sends the Red Elephants to 2-2 on the year.  

“It’s a line of scrimmage ball game,” Webb said. “Whoever wins the line of scrimmage, wins the ball game. They just absolutely kicked our tails up front. It is what it is.”

Jefferson started the night off with a forced three and out, followed by a score to cap off a 10-play drive of entirely rushing plays. Gainesville’s next two possessions ended in turnovers on downs, and the Dragons added two passing touchdowns and a defensive score to jump out to a 27-0 lead at halftime. 

Things did not improve much for the Red Elephants in the second half, as they gave up touchdowns on each of Jefferson’s two drives in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. 

Despite the lopsided defeat, Webb emphasized the importance of staying optimistic and not letting this week’s loss carry over into next Friday’s game against Flowery Branch. 

“We have to learn the lesson from tonight and make sure that we understand that every week is new,” he said. “Just because we fell tonight, doesn’t mean we’re going to fall next week.” 

Failing to finish the drill

At times early in the game, Gainesville offense looked potent enough to stay competitive with Jefferson. On their second drive of the night, the Red Elephants marched 49 yards down the field, picking up three gains of over 10 yards in their first four plays and looking like a well-oiled machine. 

But an incompletion from quarterback Gionni Williams halted the possession on the Jefferson 40-yard line, the first of three turnovers on downs inside Dragons territory that prevented the Red Elephants from keeping the contest close. 

“You’ve got to make your possessions count,” Webb said. “We didn’t make them count. Against these guys, possessions have to finish in scores, and we didn’t do that.”

Slow start to second half 

If Gainesville wasn’t completely out of the game by halftime, it only took one play into the third quarter to put the Red Elephants away. 

Looking for a stop to start turning the tide of the game, Gainesville gave up a 64-yard touchdown to Jefferson’s Malaki Starks off a pitch to the left on the Dragons first offensive snap of the second half. And though the Red Elephants responded with their only score on the ensuing drive, the damage had already been done. 

It was a spirit-dampening play, and an omen for what was to come for the remainder of the contest.

“We talk about it all the time, the first drive of the second half is the most important drive of the game,” Webb said. “It’s a tone setter for the second half. They set the tone and we didn’t.”

Walt Dixon continues to emerge

The lone bright spot of the day for Gainesville came early in the third quarter with the Red Elephants already trailing 34-0. 

On second and long following a holding penalty, Williams threw up a 50-50 ball in the direction of Gainesville receiver Walt Dixon in one-on-one coverage. Dixon timed his jump perfectly, skying over the Jefferson defensive back to pull the ball in with both hands and then falling over the Dragons defender into the end zone for Gainesville’s lone score. 

It was an encouraging sign from the Red Elephants new top receiving threat, who was the opening day starter at quarterback last season but has acclimated nicely to his new role.

“All season, (Dixon) transitioning from quarterback to receiver has been really good,”  Webb said. “I’m proud of him for being a great teammate and embracing that role. It’s nice to see him be rewarded with touchdowns.”

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