Gainesville doesn’t need the extra motivation for tonight’s game against Johnson, but it’s there.
The Red Elephants are still in the fight for a playoff spot, are coming off their biggest offensive night in school history, and are looking to prove themselves to the rest of the region.
But tonight at Billy Ellis Memorial, the Red Elephants will have revenge on their minds.
Last year, the then 2-4-1 Knights came into City Park and upset the 7-1 Red Elephants 33-31. The loss knocked Gainesville out of contention for a region title.
"There’s definitely a revenge factor with this one," Gainesville quarterback Justin Fordham said. "It is going to be a big game, no doubt."
Vengance aside, tonight’s game will be big for a much more important reason for both teams. Both the Knights and Red Elephants are working toward a playoff appearance.
Flowery Branch, at 1-0 in Region 7B-AAA, has the inside track to the first playoff spot with a win over Gainesville two weeks ago.
Gainesville, at 1-1, has two subregion games left to lock up the second spot. Johnson, also 1-0 in the subregion, has three games remaining, but has yet to face Flowery Branch.
Tonight’s game could decide which team gets that second playoff spot.
Gainesville snapped a three-game losing streak last week in a big way, beating Pickens 77-35, scoring the most points any team has scored in school history.
The Red Elephants’ 5-foot-6 running back Kendrick Harris stepped out of the shadow of the team’s receving duo, Tyler Adetona and Gerald Ford, with seven touchdowns.
Johnson snapped its own losing streak last week, four-games long, with a 34-18 win over West Hall.
The Knights’ strength this year has been their defense; their linebackers to be more specific.
Sophomore Gilberto Espinoza and seniors Micah Mills and Cody Tatum lead Johnson’s linebacker unit. Tatum leads the team with four sacks. Junior Josh Owens leads the defensive line with 3.5 sacks. The Knights’ defense will have its hands full tonight with a Gainesville offense that is averaging 39.9 points per game.
Fordham said that since the Pickens win, Gainesville has been practicing as well as it has all season. But that only takes a team so far.
"We’ve had a great week of practice," he said. "But it doesn’t matter how you practice if you don’t bring it with you Friday night."