The Red Elephants’ defense forced two turnovers and held down Johnson’s running game in the second half for a 34-18 win at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. The win gives Gainesville the lead in the chase for the playoffs in Region 7B-AAA.
"They basically won us the ball game," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said of his defense. "I feel like we made some definite improvements on defense."
The Knights (3-5, 1-1 Region 7B-AAA) kept pace with Gainesville in the first half off the strength of two long runs by sophomore quarterback Anthony Prophet. He finished the half with 122 yards and one touchdown on seven carries.
The Red Elephants put their giant feet down after halftime.
Gainesville (6-3, 2-1 Region 7B-AAA) kept Johnson to 113 yards of total offense in the second half and forced two fumbles on the Knights’ first two possessions of the third quarter with Johnson close behind, 20-12.
"They did a good job shutting it down," Johnson coach Paul Friel said. "They started getting to us and picking up our option. They adjusted nicely."
The Red Elephants allowed only three plays of 30 yards or more. All three of those plays either scored or led to touchdowns. Prophet was held to one rushing yard in the second half.
"Our defense stepped up and played a great game and we rewarded them with some touchdowns," senior receiver Gerald Ford said.
The 18 points Gainesville gave up is its lowest total in more than a month. The improvement came just in time, too. The 35 points Gainesville scored is also its lowest total in more than a month.
"We’ve decided to play some kids both ways," Miller said. "We decided to put our athletes on defense. ... I tried to not do it this year, but you’ve got to make things happen."
Offensive standouts like quarterback Justin Fordham and running back Kendrick Harris saw time on the other side of the ball. Fordham knocked down one pass in the fourth quarter to force a Johnson punt.
But behind center, it was business as usual for Fordham.
The senior finished with four touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown. He completed 23 of 28 passes for 301 yards.
"Last year, they came in here and got us, so this is nice revenge right here," Fordham said, referring to Johnson’s 33-31 win last year at City Park. "They did a great job of mixing up their looks on us and forced us to rely on some big plays. Our offensive line did a real good job tonight."
Johnson did its best to put pressure on Fordham by constantly blitzing two linebackers. But a collection of screen passes helped alleviate some of that pressure.
The Red Elephants second touchdown of the game came off a slip screen to senior Tyler Adetona, who broke the play for a 69-yard touchdown.
"We gave up too many big plays in the first half," Friel said. "We needed to keep the pressure on them."
Gainesville also had success taking advantage of the mismatch Ford creates against most cornerbacks. Ford finished the game with nine catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
"From my point of view, I think it’s a mismatch with any cornerback in the country," Ford said with a laugh. "I did good tonight, but I could have done better, run crisper routes."
Johnson was diligent in its running game, rolling up 244 yards of offense on the ground. All three of the Knights’ touchdowns came on runs.
Senior Seth Evans finished the game with 41 yards on 13 carries and freshman Mantevius Rucker added 36 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore Tre Dudley ran in a 34-yard touchdown on his only carry of the game and the Knights’ only score of the second half.
Gainesville held Johnson to 69 rushing yards in the second half.
Gainesville can lock up a playoff spot next week with a win at West Hall. But even Miller is clear on all the possible playoff scenarios.
"I told our coaches that I’m not going to worry about but one week at a time," he said. "I’m just going to go out and coach one game at a time. ... If we can win next week, it’s locked. We’ve got our destiny in our hands and we need to go settle it."
Johnson, on the other hand, is going to need a lot of help in addition to winning its final two games of the season.
"A lot would have to happen," Friel said. "I was just banking on trying to win this one."
Gainesville 34, Johnson 18
Gainesville 13 7 14 0—34
Johnson 0 12 0 0—18
GHS—Johnson 29 pass from Fordham (pass failed), 9:10
GHS—Adetona 69 pass from Fordham (Turner kick), 1:49
JHS—Prophet 52 run (kick failed), 11:49
GHS—Fordham 3 run (Turner kick), 9:20
JHS—Rucker 3 run (kick failed), 8:17
GHS—Ford 30 pass from Fordham (Turner kick), 5:58
GHS—Martin 7 pass from Fordham (Turner kick), 1:08
JHS—Dudley 34 run (kick failed), 6:25
First downs 16 11
Rushes-yards 14-1 42-244
Passing yards 301 60
Comp.-Att.-Int. 23-28-0 5-12-0
Total yards 302 304
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-2
Punts-avg. 5-37 5-26
Penalties-yards 5-30 6-48
Rushing: Gainesville, Harris 9-18, Fordham 3-0, Adetona 1-(-4). Johnson, Prophet 13-123, Evans 13-40, Rucker 13-36, Dudley 1-34, Madrigal 2-11.
Passing: Gainesville, Fordham 23-28-0 301. Johnson, Prophet, 5-12-0 62.
Receiving: Gainesville, Ford 9-122, Adetona 5-88, Johnson 1-29, Harris 4-32, Martin 3-25. Johnson, Cannon 1-19, Dudley 2-16, Head 1-9, Rucker 1-16.