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High school football: Gainesville coach taking positive approach to regular-season finale against North Forsyth
Red Elephants need win to lock up No. 3 seed to state, avoid tiebreaker
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Gainesville High running back Naim Cheeks is dragged down Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, by West Forsyth's Greyson Brockman after a big gain during the first half of their game in Gainesville at City Park Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gainesville coach Heath Webb chooses to dwell on the positive, even though the playoffs are not yet a guarantee with one game to go in the regular season. 

Webb is focused on the possibility of the Red Elephants (5-4, 3-2 Region 6-7A) locking up the No. 3 seed to the Class 7A state tournament, not their two-game losing streak that erased the possibility of a region championship or home playoff game. 

The third-year coach points to the upbeat banter among players after falling to Denmark 24-21 on Friday, proving that his veteran players kept the focus on what is at stake Friday in the regular-season finale against North Forsyth (6-3, 2-3) at City Park Stadium. 

“As soon as the game ended against Denmark, we had several seniors tell the team that we had to move on and start focusing on playing North Forsyth,” Webb said. “There were a lot of positive things being said, which speaks to the culture in our program.”

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The Red Elephants started the region schedule with three straight wins, but because of back-to-back losses, it created the possibility of a three-way tie with North Forsyth and South Forsyth for the final two playoff spots to state.

Even in the losses, Gainesville has shown signs that it could potentially be a very tough out in the playoffs. 

Despite trailing by 21 points in the first half against Denmark (5-3, 5-0), which will face West Forsyth (6-3, 4-1) for the region championship in Week 12, the Red Elephants battled back with three unanswered touchdowns to tie it up late in the fourth quarter. 

“We were down 21-0 but were still playing good football,” Webb said. “I was very proud of the way we were competing.”

Down big early, Gainesville rallied back with a 63-yard scoring run by Naim Cheeks and JQ Drinkard’s 76-yard touchdown reception. 

Quarterback Gionni Williams added a 12-yard scoring run for Gainesville in the fourth quarter. 

“I’m really proud of the way we competed against Denmark and battled back,” Webb added. “We’ve shown we can handle adverse situations.”

The week prior to playing Denmark, the Red Elephants lost another close one, falling 14-7 to West Forsyth in Gainesville. 

The closeness of scores between the teams competing for the region championship and final two playoff spots in Region 6-7A show how razor-thin the margin for error is to make the postseason. 

If Gainesville beats North Forsyth this week, then the Red Elephants will have the No. 3 spot to the 7A state tournament, which opens Nov. 27 or 28. If Gainesville loses and South Forsyth (5-3, 2-3) beat Forsyth Central, then it will create a three-way tie with those two programs and North Forsyth for the final two playoff spots. 

The good news, if it comes to a tiebreaker, for Gainesville? The first criteria is a point differential, which is based on margin of victory (up to 13 points) in region games. Right now, Gainesville has a plus-13 margin, South Forsyth is at 0 and North Forsyth is at minus-13.

If that ends in a tie, which is unlikely, the next criteria is a review of points allowed in region games. 

Webb likes where his program stands if it comes down to a tiebreaker, even though Gainesville’s coach would much rather settle it on the field. 

“I feel like we’re in a good place right now and look forward to a really good week of practice,” Webb said.

Since Senior Night festivities were conducted during the home opener, due to coronavirus concerns, Webb likes the fact that his players minds will be solely focused on playing football Friday night. 

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere for football but I like that it’s going to be all about football and no distractions that come with Senior Night,” Webb said. “Everyone can focus on doing their job and taking care of the task at hand.”

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