Class AAA Championship
Gainesville (14-0) vs. Peach County (14-0)
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Tickets: $15 pre-sale, $20 at game and Ticketmaster
When his team took possession 63 yards from the end zone with less than two minutes to play Friday night, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller had already decided that one bad play would mean overtime.
If that had happened, who knows how things would have turned out.
But as fate — maybe not too strong a word — would have it, the Red Elephants broke a 21-21 tie with 18 seconds left, and defeated Flowery Branch, 29-21, to earn a spot in the Class AAA state championship game.
"It’s like somebody was looking out for us," Miller said.
Gainesville (14-0) trailed the Falcons by 14 points at halftime and again at the end of the third quarter. They pulled within seven with 7:39 left in the game, and tied the score when Thomas Sprague blocked and recovered a punt in the end zone with 4:03 remaining.
After the defense again forced a Flowery Branch punt, Red Elephant quarterback Blake Sims made good on an earlier promise he made to his coach.
"He came to me and said, ‘Coach, put the game on my shoulders and I’ll do my best to win it,’" Miller said.
Before the deciding drive, Sims had completed only two complete passes. But as he guided the team toward the end zone, he showed why Miller had no hesitation putting the game in the hands of his senior playmaking quarterback.
Here’s a look at how the final plays of the game unfolded:
• 1:54; Gainesville takes over possession at their own 37 after a Falcons punt.
• First and 10; Near disaster strikes as Sims runs for a gain of 4, but fumbles. Teammate Michael Lorentz is on the spot for the recovery, keeping the drive alive and just as importantly, keeping the ball away from Flowery Branch.
• Second and 6; Sims passes to Teryan Rucker for a gain of 3.
• Third and 3; Sims takes off for a gain of 10 to keep the chains moving.
• First and 10 at the Flowery Branch 45; An incomplete pass, Sims’ only one of the drive, stops the clock.
• Second and 10; With only 55 seconds left, time is becoming a factor. Sims completes a pass to Lorentz for a gain of 14.
• First and 10 at the 31, 49 seconds left; With Gainesville beginning to approach field goal range, an illegal procedure penalty backs them up 5 yards.
• First and 15; Sims completes a short pass to leading receiver Tai-ler Jones, who the Falcons corral quickly, forcing a fumble. The Red Elephants, however, retain possession.
• Second and 12 at the 33, 31.8 seconds left; Sims drops back, looking to Jones again, but the Falcons have him double covered. So Sims turns to Teryan Rucker open in the flats, and the senior takes the pass 23 yards and steps out of bounds at the Flowery Branch 10 to stop the clock.
"That pass to Teryan was absolutely terriffic," Miller said. "Blake could’ve tried to force it in to (Jones), but he made the play he needed to make and Teryan made a big run after the catch."
• First and goal at the 10, 24.1 seconds left; "We knew we had to take a shot at the end zone," Miller said.
• Assistant coach Michael Perry suggested a bootleg, giving Sims the option to run or pass, "and what a great call," Miller added. Sims rolled to his right and found Tyson Smith open for the 10-yard score.
• When holder Malachi Jones ran in for the two-point conversion, it completed a 22-point fourth quarter that will be remembered in Red Elephant history as one that put Gainesville back in the state championship game after a 27-year absence.
The Red Elephants, who have been ranked No. 1 in the state since mid-September, will meet Peach County (14-0) 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
By 2 p.m. Saturday, Miller and his staff had already viewed hours of film on the Trojans, who survived a 21-14 slugfest with Region 8-AAA champion Eastside to reach finals.