Midway through the second quarter against West Forsyth, Gainesville senior Alberto Sanabria deflected a pass that surely would have been intercepted by Thomas Sprague.
During the timeout that followed, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller slapped Sanabria on his helmet to let him know that he made the right play.
"It was a good play," Sanabria said following the Red Elephants’ 34-0 win over West Forsyth on Friday at City Park. "Thomas was upset and wished I hadn’t taken away his touchdown, but he told me it was a good play."
If that was a good play, the linebacker came up with a great play near the end of the second quarter with West Forsyth (3-3, 1-1 Region 7B-AAA) driving.
The drive started when Joe Carnaroli recovered a muffed punt to set up first and 10 at the Gainesville 23. But as they have for the majority of the season, the Red Elephants defense stepped up, forcing three straight negative plays including a Sanabria sack that caused a fumble and set up fourth-and-long.
The ensuing field goal attempt from West Forsyth came up short and Gainesville (6-0, 2-0) escaped the first half with a 7-0 lead.
"That play was huge," Sanabria said. "Coach kept saying all week how we needed a big goal-line stand and we were able to come up with it."
Sanabria also came up with a 29-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown late in the third quarter that gave Gainesville a 27-0 lead.
That touchdown was Gainesville’s third of the quarter, which was a welcomed sight for Miller, who watched his offense struggle in the first half with just seven points.
"We were just shooting ourselves in the foot," Miller said. "You don’t like to be tested, but I was glad to see how we handled it."
They did with defense, holding West Forsyth to 65 yards of offense and forcing two fumbles.
"When you play good defense, you can hang in there," Miller said.
While the defense held the fort for the first half, the offense finally got things going in the third quarter when Blake Sims connected with Tai-ler Jones for a 6-yard touchdown. That was the second Sims-to-Jones touchdown of the game; the two connected for a 25-yard pass with 8:37 left in the second quarter to put Gainesville on the scoreboard.
It was the first time Gainesville had been held scoreless in the first quarter all season.
"West Forsyth is a great team," Sanabria said. "Our offense struggled early, but I knew they would make up for it in the second half."
Sims, who rushed for 115 yards, took things in his own hands for Gainesville’s third touchdown, taking a quarterback draw 71 yards to the end zone. Fourteen seconds later, Sanabria scored on the fumble recovery.
"I just saw the ball and ran," Sanabria said.
That was Gainesville’s game plan all night. The team rushed for 327 yards, including 119 from Teryan Rucker and 53 from Devon Pierce, who scored a touchdown in his first game back from a hamstring injury.
Pierce got a loud ovation from the City Park crowd and was a welcomed sight for Miller.
"We’re finally getting everyone healthy," he said.
Not only are the Red Elephants healthy, but they finally passed a test, as well.
"We definitely needed a good test," Sanabria said. "This was a great test for our goal of winning a state title."