Gainesville’s football team had its priorities in line Friday at Bobby Gruhn Field.
Even though all the buzz circulating centered around next Friday’s game against Flowery Branch, and the chance for the Red Elephants to wrap up the Region 7-AAA title, the Red Elephants knew that a win against Johnson was job No. 1.
From the looks of things, Gainesville wasn’t looking past the Knights (3-7, 2-3 Region 7B-AAA).
The Red Elephants defeated Johnson 63-0, and now No. 1 ranked Gainesville (9-0, 4-0) can start thinking about playing the Falcons (7-2, 4-0), which for the second consecutive season gives the Red Elephants the opportunity to wrap up a region crown.
"This game against Flowery Branch will be almost like a playoff game in itself," Gainesville senior linebacker Thomas Sprague said. "We’ve been looking forward to this game all season.
"We know Flowery Branch has an excellent team."
Against Johnson, the Red Elephants didn’t squander any of their offensive opportunities, scoring on all five of its first half possessions and on an 80-yard punt return from senior quarterback Blake Sims.
And on defense, the Red Elephants were just as crisp, allowing 115 rushing yards on the night and a total of 137 yards to Johnson.
"I challenged our team to start playing at another level," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "Our defense played extremely well and I couldn’t have asked any more out of our team tonight."
Gainesville senior running back Teryan Rucker scored on the first drive on a run from the 1. He was catalyst for the Red Elephants all night offensively, finishing with three touchdown runs (78, 49 and 1-yard) and added a 35-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter.
Rucker finished with a game-high 149 rushing yards.
"People said that Johnson may have been a team that we would look past, but we just stayed very focused," Rucker said. "We wanted to be able to send a message.
"Our goal all season has been to win the state title but we want to win the region title first."
Sims finished the game with two passing touchdowns (35 and 40 yards), two short touchdown runs and the score on special teams. He completed 8 of 15 passes for 170 yards all in the first half, and along with the touchdown pass to Rucker, he also connected with senior receiver Tai-ler Jones on a 40-yard touchdown.
Jones finished a game-high three catches for 93 yards.
It just seemed like everything was going right for Gainesville in its regular season home finale. Even when a pass went through the intended receiver’s hands near the sideline late in the first half, junior Desmund Hamilton was in the line of the missed throw for the catch that went for 28 yards. Sims scored on his second touchdown run of the game on the next play.
Tucked in between Rucker’s two third-quarter touchdown runs for Gainesville, the Red Elephants also found a way to score on defense. Junior linebacker A.J. Johnson made a stop on a Knights’ runner at their own 18, stripped the ball carrier of the ball, and picked it up and carried it in for the score.
With the win, the Red Elephants need a win against Flowery Branch to claim the region title. If Gainesville was to lose against Flowery Branch, North Hall (7-2, 5-0 Region 7A-AAA) would be the Region 7-AAA champion. The Trojans defeated Gilmer 49-0 Friday at The Brickyard to claim the North subregion title.
Mantevius Rucker led the Knights with 57 rushing yards. Johnson’s season is now finished.