CLEVELAND – Even without Deshaun Watson, Gainesville’s offense still looks awfully tough to stop.
Six different Red Elephants scored in a 47-21 exhibition victory against White County, including two rushing scores by running back Chris Byrd. The junior sprinted into the end zone from three and 42 yards out in the first half.
Quarterback Mikey Gonzalez gave the Red Elephants reason to believe they are in good shape under center after losing Watson, the state’s all-time leading passer, to graduation last year. The senior completed 11-of-13 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in a little more than a quarter of action.
“Mikey played real well and we played a lot of different people,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “Our defense played tough because there were a lot of different people doing good things.”
Gainesville jumped on top 28-0 in the first half courtesy of touchdowns from Rodney Lackey, Byrd and Rodarius Timmons, before White County senior Maurice Sutton (8 carries, 40 yards) found open space on the right side to score from 13 yards out and cut the deficit to 28-7 going into halftime.
Gainesville’s second-stringers struck back in the third quarter, when backup quarterback Markese Jackson completed a three-yard pass to Kadarius Smith.
The Red Elephants racked up 240 offensive yards, compared to White County’s 77.
A White County football player was taken away in an ambulance for precautionary reasons in the third quarter after he sustained an apparent neck injury with the Warriors trailing 34-7.
Sophomore guard Caleb Leverette was attempting to defend a quarterback scramble by Jackson when he fell out of bounds.
Leverette was on the ground for less than 15 minutes before an ambulance arrived at the school. He gave a thumbs-up to a grateful crowd before he was loaded into the back of the vehicle.
“He’ll be okay, I think,” White County coach Bill Ballard said after the scrimmage. “It’s just precautionary, I’m told. The Gainesville doctor took a look, as well. I hope he’s back as soon as he can, because we need him.”
Once the action resumed, Clay Harris ran in another Gainesville touchdown from 11 yards out to increase the score to 41-7.
The Warriors then found some defensive stops to stem the tide. Nasser Clark forced Jackson into a fumble, which Clark then ran back 40 yards to cut the Gainesville lead to 41-14.
Warriors freshman quarterback Kaleb Crane later scored from five yards out to cut the gap to 41-21, and the White County defense proceeded to hold the visitors scoreless on the next three drives.
Freshman Banks Griffith tacked on a final score for the Red Elephants when his 12-yard looping pass to Nick Lyles pushed the White County deficit back to 26, but Ballard said he found positives in the loss to a highly-touted Class AAAAA team.
“We’re not going to be playing Gainesville every week, obviously, but we’ll be playing some teams that are a lot more athletic than us and that’s something we’ve got to get better at,” he said.
“We wanted to play against these types of teams to work on what we can get better at.”
Gainesville and White County both open the regular season on Aug. 29. Gainesville travels to Grayson, while White County hosts Pickens.