GAINESVILLE -- It's a rare thing to score 77 points in a high school football game - it's even rarer to need every single one of those points.
"We need to score every time we see the ball," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "We needed all those points tonight."
OK, Gainesville High could have taken a knee on its final possession of a 77-35 win over Pickens on Friday night, but after watching the Dragons' offense roll up 366 yards and score five touchdowns in three quarters, few could blame Miller for being nervous.
After all, midway through the third quarter, the scoreboard read, 42-35 Gainesville.
After losing its last three games, Gainesville (5-3, 1-1 Region 7B-AAA) also needed a victory.
The Red Elephants got both Friday thanks to its high-powered offense and opportunistic defense and special teams, which also scored a touchdown apiece.
Running back Kendrick Harris led the Gainesville onslaught with seven total scores, including six rushing touchdowns and one kickoff return for a score. The senior tallied 124 yards on 19 carries and added two catches for 33 yards.
"We needed this so bad," said a relieved Miller. "Luckily we made some plays on defense there in the second half that allowed us to get the ball back and get a good lead."
For a while it appeared as though the last team to get the ball would take home the win.
Pickens (2-6, 0-2) scored on two of its first three possessions to take a 14-7 lead before Gainesville roared back in front 35-20 at the half.
Harris scored on runs of 4, 8 and 6 yards to help the Red Elephants edge ahead, but it wasn't until defensive end Josh Jackson picked off a Pickens screen pass with 17 seconds left in the half and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown that the lead looked anything but tenuous.
"We're just struggling with some things on defense right now," Miller said. "It's not like we're not practicing hard. We're just giving up some big plays."
The Red Elephants manufacture more than a few big plays of their own, however, and Harris came up with one on the opening kickoff of the second half. Gathering a line-drive kick at his own 18 yard-line, the diminutive speedster cut outside a tackle and sprinted 82 yards to give Gainesville a 42-20 advantage.
But Pickens wasn't ready to quit yet. Aided by a Red Elephants personal foul during kickoff, the Dragons marched 57 yards in six plays to pull within 42-28 on quarterback Jesse Cantrell's 20-yard scamper.
Penalties also helped kill off Gainesville's offense on their ensuing possession, as a block in the back wiped out a touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Fordham to receiver Gerald Ford. An incompletion on fourth and long then gave the Dragons the ball back at their own 15. But it wasn't until third and 15 at their own 10 that Pickens sprang back to life, as R.J. Harrington found Devin Mosley for a 20-yard gain that the receiver turned into a 90-yard touchdown run.
Mosley's score pulled Pickens within 42-35 with 6:13 left in the third quarter.
Yet if any offense can be relied on to score, it's Gainesville's. The Red Elephants responded with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Fordham to Ford that gave Gainesville breathing room at 49-35.
The Red Elephants defense then forced three straight punts and Harris finished off Pickens with touchdown runs of 17 and 7 yards.
With key games remaining at Johnson and against West Hall, Miller would prefer not to leave the contest open until the final quarter.
"We know we've got to play great defense to get our program back to where we want to be," Miller said. "But right now, we've got to do what we need to do win the game."
PHS 14 6 15 0-35
GHS 7 28 21 21-77
PHS-Larsen 19 run (Reeves kick)
GHS-Harris 4 run (Turner kick)
PHS-Mosley 7 pass from Harrington (Reeves kick)
GHS-Harris 8 run (Turner kick)
GHS-Harris 6 run (Turner kick)
PHS-Harrington 1 run (kick failed)
GHS-Martin 30 pass from Fordham (Turner kick)
GHS-Jackson 50 interception return (Turner kick)
GHS-Harris 82 kickoff return (Turner kick)
PHS-Cantrell 20 run (Willingham pass from Cantrell)
PHS-Mosley 90 pass from Harrington (Reeves kick)
GHS-Ford 40 pass from Fordham (Turner kick)
GHS-Harris 7 run (Turner kick)
GHS-Harris 17 run (Turner kick)
GHS-Young 29 pass from Fordham (Turner kick)
GHS-Harris 5 run (Turner kick)
First downs 17 23
Rushes/yards 51-210 24-154
Passing 7-19-2 17-24-0
Passing yards 156 334
Penalties 5-35 9-108
Fumbles-lost 3-0 0-0
Punts-avg. yards 5-31 1-35
Rushing: PHS, Larsen 19-100, Cantrell 11-79, Willingham 8-13, McMahan 4-29; GHS, Harris 19-124, Fordham 5-30.
Passing: PHS, Cantrell 3-9-1, 35, Harrington 4-10-1, 121; GHS, Fordham 17-24-0, 334.
Receiving: PHS, Mosley 4-128, Bennett 1-17, Padgett 1-9, Harrington 1-2; GHS, Ford 6-153, Adetona 6-61, Martin 2-58, Harris 2-33, Young 1-29.