Going up against a two-time defending region champion is one thing. Attempting to hand it that first region loss in nearly two years is an even taller task.
Gainesville coach Heath Webb knew exactly what his Red Elephants football program was up against when they welcomed in reigning 8-6A champ Dacula to City Park Stadium.
From the get-go, it was tough sledding for winless Gainesville, as the visiting Falcons handily put together touchdown drives on their first two possessions from scrimmage before running away with a 37-7 defeat of their hosts in a Region 8-6A opener Friday night.
The win for the Falcons (4-2, 1-0) also preserves a region unbeaten streak dating back to the program’s move to the 8-6A in 2016.
As for the Red Elephants (0-6, 0-1) the wait to give Webb his first win as head coach will have to be put on hold yet another week.
“They are not only the two-time defending region champion, but since they’ve been in this region, nobody’s beaten them,” Webb said. “We knew that they have a lot of guys returning on defense, and you know, some super star talent.”
Dacula established their presence at the line of scrimmage as early as their first offensive play, and from there showcased a balanced attack that tallied 37 unanswered points over three quarters. The Falcons outgained Gainesville 365-143, the majority coming on the ground at a bruising rate of 7 yards per carry.
Starting running back Trenton Jones carried 16 times for 134 yards that included a 37-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Sophomore Kaleb Edwards racked up 62 yards and a score while only toting it twice behind Jones. It made way for the vertical attack, as quarterback Jarrett Jenkins (9 of 12 attempts) threw for 110 yards and a pair of scoring strikes, coming from 8 and 3 yards to wideout Jalen Perry and Chris Scott, respectively. Jenkins’ second touchdown pass of the night came off a fake jet sweep, another play Dacula executed often.
The Falcons also got a 33-yard field goal from junior placekicker Zach Gerks in the third period.
“We felt like we got the run game going tonight, opened up the passing game — Chris Scott makes a great catch (points) over here for a touchdown,” Dacula first-year coach Clint Jenkins said. For us, that’s what it’s all about — establish the run and play really good defense.”
And Gainesville felt the brunt of that defense in the box. Senior running back Quintavious Hayes fought hard for his team-high 52 yards on the ground, the bulk of that coming on a 24-yard scamper during the second quarter. The Red Elephants just couldn’t catch many breaks on their home turf as they punted on each of their first six possessions, finishing the game with eight 3-and-out drives with three first downs.
It was also a tough debut for sophomore quarterback Gionni Williams under center, who was often under duress against Dacula’s pass rush.
“It makes life so difficult when you play them -- because they do have the defenders to put in the box, and they have the talent to play man coverage and they dare you to beat them,” Webb said of Dacula. “The talent level is just so high.”
Williams, however, showed flashes of athleticism on back-to-back plays to put Gainesville on the board with 4:50 to play — a 24-yard scramble and a 35-yard touchdown strike to a wide open tight end Makius Scott over the middle for his first varsity completion.
Gainesville also suffered in terms of self-inflicted wounds, as it was tagged with 110 yards in penalties, including four personal foul infractions. A catcher’s interference penalty called during a Gainesville punt even extended a Dacula scoring drive midway through the second period. Another pre-snap penalty on Gainesville to follow aided the Falcons, which watched Jones explode and weave for his long scoring scamper to make it 20-0 with 5:16 left in the half.
Despite the loss, Webb — who started eight sophomores and seven juniors Friday — already has this young Gainesville roster looking ahead to Habersham Central next Friday night in Mount Airy.
“Our job is to grow them up as quick as we can, and get them ready to play,” Webb said. “We’re not looking (at) next year, we’re trying to win next week. But we know big things are in store for us.”