Gainesville High football fans are elated to be going to the state championship football game next Saturday for the first time since 1982.
Gainesville came from behind Friday to defeat Flowery Branch 29-21 in a cross-county Class AAA state semifinal showdown at Bobby Gruhn Field.
The game was billed as the biggest high school football game in Hall County history. Gainesville Athletic Director Wayne Vickery estimated that 5,500 people filled the stands at City Park.
Bruce Lothridge was one of them. He watched the game with his 3-year-old son, Mills, on his lap from the same seats his parents used to fill every season. But 27 years ago he was sporting a helmet and football pads on the same field in Gainesville’s 1982 state championship game.
He said he remembers well what it feels like to have a crowd roaring in your ears and the scoreboard glowing above. And though Gainesville lost its title bid 1982 to Bainbridge High 7-6, memories of making it to the state final remain sweet.
"This is something they’ll never forget. Never forget," he said. "Either way, it’s been a great, fun ride. Pure excitement."
Gainesville will face Peach County at 4:30 p.m. next Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Senior Charleston Troutman, one of the Red Elephant mascots, said the Gainesville student section was overjoyed with the win.
"It is amazing," she said. "This is my last game at Bobby Gruhn Field and it’s awesome."
Despite the 40-degree weather, fans came from all over the county to watch the showdown.
"We feel like the whole county’s here," said Kim Osborne who came to watch her nephew, Casey Osborne, play for the Falcons. "They’ve worked hard. Stuff like this doesn’t happen often. It’s great to have Hall County represented again on the state level."
Osborne was one of many football fans who arrived to the park at 4:30 p.m. Friday, hours before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Gainesville Police said traffic and parking were manageable and there were no issues with the crowd.
Gainesville senior and cheerleader Queata Waller said she is thrilled the Red Elephants are going to the Georgia Dome.
"In the second quarter (with Flowery Branch ahead 14-0), we were in tears, but we knew our boys would pull through, and they did," she said. "We’re going to the Dome and we want to take it all."