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Davis: Proud teams live up to the hype with a game to remember
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Words are a powerful tool.

If used the right way, words can encourage and inspire or, if used the wrong way they can do just the opposite.

Words can also take you places; make you smell the popcorn, hear the cheers, feel the beat of a band’s drumline and immerse you in an atmosphere.

Riding back after top-ranked Gainesville’s 29-21 state semifinal win over unranked Flowery Branch, I thought about stats and game-changing moments.

I thought about touchdowns and blocked punts and kickoff returns and interceptions.

And then I thought about how little the game had to do with any of it.

For anyone who picked up an edition of The Times this week or listened to the radio, or lives in Hall County, it was made clear that this game was special.

It was deemed the biggest football game ever to be played in Hall County and for good reason.

The question being asked prior to kickoff, however, was would it live up to the hype?

Would it live up to the countless signs lining Green Street? Would it live up to Lanierland games being moved for it? Would it live up to being called the "Duel for the Dome," the "Semifinal Smackdown" and "One for the Ages?"

Prior to kickoff, longtime and legendary Gainesville High announcer Walt Snelling informed the thousands in attendance that they were a part of the largest crowd in the history of Bobby Gruhn Field.

Would it live up to that?

This game, this 48-minute game, this state semifinal game played by 14-to-18-year-old young men more than lived up to the hype.

This game will be talked about for the next 30 years.

Under the watchful eyes of a capacity crowd donning stocking caps and heavy coats, blankets and hot chocolate, Flowery Branch and Gainesville battled.

The Falcons — the underdog Falcons — came out playing the type of football that got them to the state semifinals to begin with.

Offensively, they calmly and methodically drove down the field, eating up minutes and the will of the mighty Red Elephants.

Defensively, they stoically stood up and said, "It won’t be like last time’s 49-17 trouncing."

They forced three turnovers, held Gainesville to several three-and-outs and even scored off an interception.

The Falcons — the underdog Falcons — held Gainesville scoreless in the first half for the first time this season and had a 14-0 advantage.

Then came the second half, and Blake Sims 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Flowery Branch responded with another score, but wouldn’t score again as Gainesville proved the omnipotent power of sheer will, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter for a win.

Thomas Sprague single-handedly tied it with a blocked punt in the end zone that he picked up for a score ... for his season, for his team, for a trip to the Dome.

Teryan Rucker single-handedly got Gainesville in game-winning scoring position by taking a Sims’ pass and rushing 23 yards to the Flowery Branch 10 ... just rushing for his season, for his team, for a trip to the Dome.

When it was all done, when one season was over and one was being celebrated with adulation, tears were shed.

Both Connor Shaw and Sims cried, for different reasons, putting into perspective this game for the ages.

"We win together and we lose together," coach Lee Shaw said to his team as they huddled after the game. "Nobody expected you to go this far and compete like this tonight.

"I’m proud of you."

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller echoed his opponents sentiments, for different reasons.

"It’s a great feeling knowing we’re going to the state title game," he said. "These seniors said before the season started that this is what they wanted and they brought us here.

"I’m so proud of them."

As a Hall County resident and a Gainesville graduate, I can honestly say that we’re all proud of you, all of you, for living up to the hype, for making the state semifinals matchup a game for the ages.

For making Friday night at Bobby Gruhn Field about more than stats, but about heart.

For making it worthy of wanting to go back and relive, through words.

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