1122JeffriesAUDListen to Gainesville receiver Juwon Jeffries talk about the team win.
1122JohnsonAUDListen to A.J. Johnson talk about the team's win.
1122Sims AUDListen to Gainesville quarterback Blake Sims talk about beating his former rival.
1122MillerAUDListen to Gainesville coach Bruce Miller discuss his team's second-round win
Coming off the bus and walking to the field during their traditional Elephant Walk, the Gainesville Red Elephants looked focused. Once they stepped foot on the field, Big Red looked nothing short of dominant.
Gainesville (12-0) scored on its first possession of the game and reeled off four touchdowns in the second quarter, ultimately beating Cartersville 42-28 on Friday during the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs at City Park.
The win sends the fourth-ranked Red Elephants to the third round where they will play Carver-Columbus, which beat Woodward Academy 21-6 on Friday.
Because both teams are No. 1 seeds, a coin toss will be held at 11 a.m. today in Fayetteville to determine which school plays host to the quarterfinal game.
“It’s one of those things when you enjoy this moment and you wake up in the morning and prepare for another one,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “Right now, we’re in the elite eight and you get down to this point and you hope you can play again and everything will work out.”
Everything certainly worked out early and often for Gainesville, which marched 55 yards down the field on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead. That opening drive ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Blake Sims to Juwon Jeffries, who caught the ball along the side of the end zone and was able to keep both feet inbounds.
“I went off my route and saw that Blake had no one to throw to,” said Jefferies, who ended the game with four catches for 43 yards. “We just made eye contact and he threw it up and I looked it in.”
That catch set the tone for the game’s first half. Gainesville scored touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second quarter, and another on a fumble recovery on Cartersville’s first possession of the second, putting the Purple Hurricanes (8-4) on their heels.
“Coach Miller told us that they were a good team and that we had to come out fast and that’s what we did,” said Sims, who was 13-for-21 passing for 222 yards and had three touchdowns.
The win was especially satisfying for Sims, who used to live in Cartersville and played for the Hurricanes’ rival Cass High last year.
“I was pumped all day,” said Sims after exchanging a few pleasantries with some Cartersville players. “I just told my teammates that I was ready to play and I knew they would be ready to play.”
Those teammates, specifically Jefferies, Tai-ler “T.J.” Jones, Devon Pierce and Teryan Rucker, proved to their signal-caller that they were ready to play as well.
Rucker rushed for a game-high 103 yards and two touchdowns to go along with an 96-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Jones had five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, and Pierce chipped in with 62 yards on 14 carries.
“Our offensive staff — and you can take me out of it — did the best job preparing for this game that I’ve ever seen,” Miller said.
So did the defensive staff. After Austin Calvert recovered a fumble to give the Red Elephants a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, Gainesville’s defense gave up touchdowns on three consecutive Cartersville possessions. Two of those came on passes of 21 and 46 yards from Donavan Tate to Morgan Alexander.
But the third was the most critical score of the game, as Tate connected with Elijer Martinez for an 80-yard touchdown to start the second half and cut the Gainesville lead to 14 points.
“They can cross the line, but they can’t cross the line more than our offense,” said Gainesville linebacker A.J. Johnson of the defense’s mentality after the three touchdowns.
He was right, as Gainesville’s defense held the tandem of Tate and Alexander in check for the rest of the game. Alexander, who finished the game with four catches and 90 yards and two touchdowns, was held without a reception in the second half.
Tate was picked off by Kenya Jackson in the third quarter that prevented the Hurricanes from cutting the deficit to seven points.
Tate finished the game 18-for-26 passing for 253 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted twice, including one by Xavier Ervin that led to Rucker’s third touchdown.
“It’s probably the most complete game we’ve played,” said Miller, whose team is the third round for the first time since 2002.
“We feel like we can play with anybody,” Sims added. “Everybody’s been doubting us all year, but we just take that to the field and it makes us play way harder.”