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Gainesville, West Forsyth square off in battle of unbeatens
Gainesville’s Teryan Rucker fights for extra yardage in last week’s game against West Hall. The Red Elephants travel to West Forsyth tonight for a battle between Region 7-AAA’s two remaining of undefeated teams. - photo by Tom Reed

It’s new school against old school.

It’s a tradition-rich program, with seven consecutive playoff appearances, against a school in its second year of existence.

But while Gainesville and West Forsyth may differ in history, the two school’s present are rather similar.

Through potent offenses and stout defenses, the Red Elephants and Wolverines have both started the season 5-0, and with wins last week in their subregion openers, both have a 1-0 record in Region 7B-AAA. Tonight that all changes, as the two undefeated teams go head-to-head in what could be the toughest game either team has played all year.

“They don’t look like a second-year football team,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said of West Forsyth. “Usually a second-year team looks young across the front and you see young guys running around. But I tell you what, there’s a reason they’re 5-0.

“I’m just amazed at how good they are so early.”

So is Miller’s coaching counterpart.

“Anybody that predicted 5-0, I would have told them they’re crazy,” Wolverines coach Frank Hepler said. “I think we snuck up on some people.”

Hepler knows that his team won’t catch Miller’s Red Elephants off guard.

“I know coach Miller, he used to coach over here in Forsyth County,” Hepler said. “We’re not going to sneak up on him. He’ll have his guys ready.”

According to Miller, because of the fact that West Forsyth is a new program, keeping his team focused has been an area of concern leading up to tonight’s game.

“They don’t have a history,” Miller said. “Our student body and our players think, ‘Who’s West Forsyth?’ They’ve kind of fallen out of nowhere.

“This is the biggest game in their history,” he added. “Even though it’s a short history, it’s a history. A lot of schools are open three or four years before they have a game ... and some schools never have a game of this magnitude, and they’re sitting in it.

“They have a chance to come in to 7-AAA and make some waves right now.”

Although they are in just their second year of existence, the Wolverines have already made their presence known in the region. Aside from its perfect record, West Forsyth boasts a strong rushing attack that has amassed more than 1,000 yards this year, helping the team average 44.6 points per game. Already this season the Wolverines have scored 77, 42 and 56 points in a game. Scoring at such a high rate has somewhat overshadowed the team’s defense, which is limiting teams to 15 points per game.

“You watch the tape and you realize they’re good,” Miller said. “They run the ball well enough and they do some things that give us trouble.

“I’m very impressed with them.”

Hepler feels the same way about Gainesville, a team that boasts a defense that has recorded back-to-back shutouts and is allowing less than three points a game.

“They’re defense is so good,” Hepler said. “We’re going to try and run some of our basic plays and hope they can work.”

And what does Hepler think about the Red Elephants offense led by junior quarterback Blake Sims, who has accounted for 1,357 total yards (1,035 passing) and 17 touchdowns in five games?

“They’re even scarier,” he said.

Yet despite Gainesville’s talent and tradition, Hepler said the players on West Forsyth’s roster are not intimidated.

“I don’t think our kids know well enough to be intimidated,” he said. “We’ve got total respect for them. Our kids have a lot of respect for them and their program, and I said some day we want to get to where they’re at.”

That day may come tonight, in a game that Miller believes will have playoff implications.

“It looks like there’s two or three teams that are going to contend for this thing,” Miller said referring to the subregion title. “They’re one of them and we gotta go play ‘em.

“You lose this game and you may stay home.”

While not saying this game is a make-or-break contest, Hepler knows that the outcome will prove to be a barometer for where the team is, and ultimately where the program is headed.

“It’s going to be a tough night, but we’re going to play the best we can,” he said. “It’s going to be tough because we’re a new program. I wouldn’t say that if we were here with an established program, but right now we’re just a young team trying to figure out which way to go.

“This is going to be a learning experience for us,” he added. “And hopefully in the future they’re talking about West Forsyth in the same way they’re doing about Gainesville.”

With a win tonight, that just might happen.

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