ATLANTA — Throughout their run to the state championship game, the top-ranked Gainesville Red Elephants used a strong running game to control the game clock and set up big plays for the passing game, but Peach County prevented that from happening.After averaging 256 yards rushing in its past two games, Gainesville was held to just 77 yards rushing on 23 attempts, and its two leading rushers (Blake Sims and Teryan Rucker) averaged less than 4 yards per carry.
The lack of a running game was due largely to the play of Peach County defensive lineman Renard Williams, who had eight tackles and one for a loss during the title game.WILDCAN’T: When Tyson Smith lines up at quarterback, the Red Elephants make the opposing defenses chose which receiver to guard, Sims or Tai-ler Jones. But the Trojans were never forced to make that decision because Gainesville never used its Wildcat offense during the title game.
Smith was primarily used as a receiver and short-yardage running back, and although he never took a snap from center, he did come up with a crucial third-down conversion in the final quarter.
With the Red Elephants driving, Smith took the handoff from Sims, pushed through the line and although he got his helmet knocked off, picked up the first down.
That effort didn’t result in a touchdown, as the drive ended with a Luke Crowell interception.WHERE’S THE OFFENSE?: Gainesville was the highest scoring offense in Class AAA entering Saturday’s state title game, but the Red Elephants only scored 12 points in the biggest game of the season.
Prior to Saturday, Gainesville averaged 44 points a game and its lowest scoring output was the 29-point performance in the Class AAA semifinals against Flowery Branch.MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: What started with a failed long pass from Sims to Chris West ended with an incomplete two-point conversion that halted Gainesville’s journey to winning a state title.
The Red Elephants’ first failed opportunity came in the first half when Sims scrambled in the backfield and launched a 40-yard pass to West, who got behind the Peach County defensive back.
The pass fell incomplete and resulted in Gainesville’s third three-and-out of the half.
Gainesville had another chance at a big play late in the game with Peach County faced with a fourth-and-6 in Gainesville territory. As Patrick Taylor fired a pass toward Isiah Miller, senior linebacker Alberto Sanabria tried to knock the ball down, but instead of the ball hitting the turf, it bounced into the arms of Miller for the first down. The continued drive ended with a Peach County field goal.HEARTBREAK IN THE BIG GAME: Gainesville has never won a GHSA state championship, but they’ve come awfully close before. Gainesville has played in five state championship games and have lost by an average of less than four points per game.
Saturday’s loss was eerily similar to the Red Elephants’ most recent appearance in a state championship (1982). In that game, Gainesville fell to Bainbridge 7-6 when a late extra-point attempt went awry, and the would-be winning two-point conversion came up inches short of the goal line.