1101FrielAUDListen to Johnson coach Paul Friel talk about the loss to Gainesville.
1101JonesAUDListen to Gainesville receiver T.J. Jones talk about throwing a TD pass.
1101SimsAUDListen to Gainesville QB Blake Sims talk about the win.
1101MillerAUDListen to Gainesville coach Bruce Miller talk about the win.
OAKWOOD -- On a chilly night, it took the Gainesville Red Elephants one half to heat up. And when they finally got hot, there was no stopping them.
Ahead by just 13 points at halftime after turning the ball over three times, the sixth-ranked Red Elephants scored 34 unanswered points in the second half to beat Johnson 68-28 on Friday at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.
The win ensures Gainesville (9-0, 4-0 Region 7B-AAA) will be playing for the region title next Friday when it plays host to Flowery Branch.
"I think a lot of us were looking past (Johnson) because Flowery Branch is so big," said wide receiver T.J. Jones. "That's why we came out sloppy. But at halftime we got it together."
Junior quarterback Blake Sims started the second-half scoring barrage with a 90-yard run on Gainesville's second possession of the third quarter that put the Red Elephants ahead 41-21.
"I just tried to bust them up the middle one time and looked what happened, a 90-yarder," said Sims, who ended the night with 118 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, plus 124 yards and a touchdown through the air.
That solid night offensively did not start out so well for Sims and the Red Elephants.
After starting the game with two quick touchdowns - the first on a Robert Humphrey punt return, followed by a Sims 1-yard score after a Johnson fumble - the Red Elephants turned the ball over three times, with the Knights (2-8, 1-4) turning two takeaways into touchdowns.
"We tried to come out with a positive head, then we scored twice and thought we had this thing in the bag," Sims said.
But they didn't. After a Sims fumble on the Red Elephants' second possession of the game, Johnson's Tevin Arthur scored on a 1-yard run to cut the lead to six.
The Red Elephants responded with a 30-yard touchdown run by Jones, but Anthony Prophet and the Knights answered right back. Prophet led the Knights on a 10-play drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cannon. The drive, aided by two 15-yard penalties by Gainesville, lasted 3:45.
After Sims found Nick Johnson with a 20-yard touchdown pass, Johnson turned an interception by Sims into seven points and nearly made the Red Elephants pay for another interception.
On a drive that started on the Gainesville 5-yard line, the Red Elephants' defense came up with a goal-line stand and prevented Johnson from scoring at the end of the first half.
"Our defense had a heck of a stand right there before the half," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "This could have been a whole different ballgame, but our defense stepped up and made some plays."
The key play was a sack by Josh Jackson that pushed Johnson back to its 20-yard line.
That play sent Gainesville into the locker room with some momentum, which was evident when the game resumed.
After Sims' 90-yard touchdown run, the Red Elephants scored on back-to-back possessions, the first by Teryon Rucker (104 yards rushing), and the second a 51-yard score on a wide receiver pass from Jones to Juwon Jefferies.
"I've been waiting for that play to be called all year," Jones said. "We needed a quick score to get some momentum back in our favor and we knew that play would work."
Playing in what he called a "fight," Miller said that play call was necessary, even if it gave the Flowery Branch team members in attendance something to plan for.
"We were hanging on by our toenails trying to win this thing," Miller said. "It was one of those things that we felt might be the crushing blow if we could complete it.
"T.J. made a great throw, and Juice (Jefferies) made a great catch."
And the blow was dealt.
Gainesville went on to score two more touchdowns, one on defense when Xavier Ervin intercepted a pitch from Prophet.
Despite the scoring disparity, Johnson coach Paul Friel was proud of his team's efforts.
"We're playing a team that's loaded and they kept fighting," said Friel, whose Knights tacked on a late touchdown in the fourth quarter. "We were executing for a while and giving them fits, but we just couldn't hold up."
Gainesville could, and according to Sims, overcoming the rough first half and winning convincingly gives his team a boost heading into next week's showdown with Flowery Branch.
"It shows everybody that we can get down and pick ourselves up real quick," Sims said. "It shows that Gainesville is about each other and not individuals, and that's going to help us in the end."
Gainesville plays host to Flowery Branch at 7:30 p.m. next Friday with the Region 7-AAA championship on the line. Johnson's season is now complete.