Since well before the 2020 season started, Gainesville football coach Heath Webb has, at the same time, looked forward to and dreaded the final stretch of the regular season.
He has good reason for having mixed emotions.
The Red Elephants (4-2, 2-0 Region 6-7A) are in the thick of the playoff race with all four spots to the postseason still on the line against six very talented schools in Forsyth County.
From the very beginning, Webb knew it would all come down to the final four weeks to determine if Gainesville will be in the postseason for the 21st consecutive season.
The Red Elephants coach knows that it won’t be easy to get into the playoffs with his final four remaining games against South Forsyth, North Forsyth, Denmark and West Forsyth — all four of which made the playoffs in 2019.
However, Webb thinks the Red Elephants are certainly up to the challenge, even though it might cause him to pull out one or two hairs along the way.
Even before the season started, Webb predicted that the region was so close in terms of talent that it would likely come down to tiebreaker criteria, which is set in place by the region, to see which programs make the state tournament.
Whether that was coachspeak, or not, it’s still probably true.
Kickoff for Gainesville’s next game is 7:30 p.m. Friday in Cumming.
The only other program in the region with an unbeaten mark in 6-7A is Denmark (3-3, 3-0), which is led by North Carolina State commit Aaron McLaughlin at quarterback.
South Forsyth (4-1, 1-1) is coming off a wild 41-34 overtime loss to West Forsyth (3-3, 1-1) on Oct. 23. With Gainesville on bye last week, Webb was able to see those two face off in person.
“It was nice to see that South Forsyth could be beaten, but at the same time, that’s a very good West Forsyth team,” Webb added.
Despite the loss last week, South Forsyth showed off some of its talent. Junior quarterback Kyle Thompson led the War Eagles with 346 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air. His top three receivers (tight end Devin McGlockton and wide receivers Mitch Thompson and Gavin Morris) all finished with around 100 yards receiving.
“Probably, the biggest matchup problem is South Forsyth has a 6-foot-7 receiver (McGlockton) and, yes, very few teams have someone who can match up with him,” Webb said. “And a lot of their offense is they have a really good quarterback who makes really good decisions with the ball.”
South Forsyth has the highest-scoring offense in Region 6-7A, averaging about 46 points per contest and had a season-high 63 to open the season against Dawson County.
“I know that South Forsyth is a really good football team with a ton of talent,” Webb said. “Even if we beat them, they’ll still beat some other people. The top four or five teams in this region are all so close together in terms of talent.”
Meanwhile, Gainesville’s start to region play has featured two back-and-forth victories. The Red Elephants opened region play with a wild 33-28 win against Forsyth Central, despite an injury that kept senior quarterback Gionni Williams on the sideline. Then on Oct. 16, the Red Elephants overcame an early two-touchdown hole to beat Lambert 42-35 at City Park Stadium.
“This is my first time coaching against Gainesville, but I know they’re always so athletic,” said South Forsyth coach Jeff Arnette, whose father-in-law, Eddie Nix, played running back for coach Bobby Gruhn at Gainesville in the mid-1960s. “We’ve got our work cut out for us against Gainesville. But all the games in this region are going to be a challenge.”
Flowery Branch at Cedar Shoals
Cherokee Bluff at Lumpkin County
North Hall at Gilmer
Gainesville at South Forsyth
East Hall at North Oconee
West Hall vs. Dawson County
Chestatee vs. Madison County