Class AAA state championship
Gainesville vs. Peach County
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Georgia Dome
How much: On sale in the Gainesville High front office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Friday for $15 each. Tickets at the gate are $20 each.
On TV, radio: 550-AM, 1330-AM; Georgia Public Broadcast Channel 8.
They say speed kills, and 13 Gainesville opponents will tell you it’s true.
After defeating Flowery Branch last week for the second time this season, the Red Elephants (14-0) have blazed a trail to the Class AAA state championship game by running over, through and past their foes — and often just outrunning them, period.
With an offense capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and a defense that swarms to the ball with a sprinter’s quickness, Gainesville has outscored opponents this season by an average margin of 44-9.
Meanwhile, down in Middle Georgia, Peach County’s path to the Georgia Dome has been much the same. The Trojans (14-0) are giving up 11 points per game with an aggressive defense that thrives on frequent blitzing.
Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller said the team speed is hard to miss when reviewing Peach County game film.
“Their quickness is the first thing that jumps out,” he said. “Offense, defense, all over the field.
“What would be a breakaway run for a touchdown against some of our opponents might be a 20-yard run against them.”
Adjusting to the Peach County’s defensive speed, which Miller compared to Cairo’s, will be of particular importance to the Red Elephants when the teams kickoff at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Trojans line up with three down linemen and five linebackers near the line of scrimmage. They blitz heavily and do a good job of disguising who’s coming.
“They’re coming from every angle,” Miller said. “Their big thing is to cause as much confusion as they can up front. Our offensive line has got to have a good game.”
That hasn’t been a problem so far this season. The Red Elephants feature five seniors on the offensive line, including four three-year starters, and they’ve fared well against the aggressive schemes of Cairo and Flowery Branch in the last two weeks.
In those games, Gainesville has been especially effective on the ground, averaging 257 yards per contest.
Athletic quarterback Blake Sims, who is just as dangerous on the run as through the air, poses a problem for blitzing defenses.
So too does the combination of leading receiver Tai-ler Jones (67 receptions, 1,240 yards, 17 touchdowns) and the Red Elephant running backs.
“The thing with (Jones) is they may have the people that can run with him, but he runs such good routes and gets in and out of breaks so well, I’m almost positive they won’t single cover him,” Miller said. “I would double cover him.
“If they do that, it comes back to how strong can our running game be? That’s why I say it all starts with the offensive line.”
Teryan Rucker leads Gainesville with 1,272 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, while fellow senior Tyson Smith has 481 yards and 11 scores.
Peach County has been strong against the run this year, allowing a little more than 100 yards per game on the ground and 3 yards per carry. Linebacker Octavius Hall (70 tackles, six sacks) and defensive end Kelcey Lewis (96 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) are two of Peach County’s defensive standouts.
This will be the Trojans’ first trip back to the state championship game since winning back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.
Gainesville hasn’t been to a state title game since a 7-6 loss to Bainbridge in 1982.
Miller, however, has experience coaching in the Georgia Dome. He led the Red Elephants to a semifinal appearance in 2002, his first year at the school. He also guided North Forsyth to the semifinals in 2001.