Gainesville vs. Peach County
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Georgia Dome
Writer's Block: St. Pius coach Paul Standard joins the show to break down the Class AAA finals.
It’s not often in a season that a running back lines up under center and throws for 263 yards and three touchdowns, has 14 receptions for 150 yards and four touchdowns and still manages to carry the ball 481 yards for 11 touchdowns.
Equally as uncommon is when another running back on the same team tops 1,250 rushing yards in a single season scoring 13 touchdowns, and adds 186 yards receiving for two more scores.
But in a year where Gainesville’s football program has simply been described as “that good,” anything is possible.
The top-ranked Red Elephants remain undefeated with a 14-0 overall record this year and will cap the season with a state championship game against Peach County at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
On a team where it is easy to be overshadowed, Gainesville’s senior running backs Tyson Smith and Teryan Rucker have been in, out and all over the field.
“Our backs have to be multi-purpose types of people,” coach Bruce Miller said. “You’ve got to be able to catch the ball to run this offense, you’ve got to be able run the ball, you’ve got to be able to block and in Tyson’s case you better be able throw.”
“They’ve got to do so many things.”
Smith has enjoyed a breakout year with 894 total yards of offense, 63.8 yards per game, and 16 touchdowns.
“I feel great about this season,” Smith said. “I’ve accomplished a lot of goals.”
But it was a rocky road for Smith, who was pulled out of his comfort zone and thrust into Gainesville’s Wildcat offense early in the year.
“It’s crazy. I was kind of scared at first,” Smith said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do (as quarterback). I’d never passed a ball during a game in my life.”
Smith threw two touchdown passes in his first appearance as quarterback in Gainesville’s 42-20 win over White County on Sept. 11, and would go on to finish the year with a 66 percent completion rate and three scores.
“On Friday nights the man comes to play,” Rucker said of Smith’s performance. “I believe you can line him up anywhere on field and he’ll make plays.”
Not to be outdone, Rucker, who has a career-high 1,272 rushing yards, has amassed 1,456 total yards of offense (104 yards per game) and 15 touchdowns this season, a step up from his breakout performance of 2008 where he had 1,187 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
“Teryan has come a long way,” said Smith of his teammate. “He’s strong, he’s fast and he knows what to do with the ball.”
For Smith and Rucker this has been a year of goals.
“My first goal was to rush for over 1,000 yards,” said Rucker, who averages 8.7 yards per carry. “My thing is running the ball. I want the carries.”
Rucker ended the regular season with 857 rushing yards, but didn’t pass the 1,000-yard mark until he broke out for a 47-yard gain in the third round of the state playoffs against Dunwoody.
“My motivation was to get to 1,000,” Rucker said. “I accomplished one of my goals. This season couldn’t get any more perfect.”
Rucker’s season started on a high note, as the senior rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Chestatee in the season-opener.
That game was especially significant for the senior due to the fact that it came on a night when Gainesville announced that it would honor Rucker’s recently deceased mother Teresa Williams by hanging a replica jersey with her name on it in the end zone at City Park.
From that night on Rucker rushed for 100 yards seven more times during the season, including three times in the playoffs.
“It didn’t surprise me,” Miller said of Rucker’s season. “I felt like he was very capable of (rushing for more than 1,000 yards). He came real close last year.”
For the seniors, this Saturday’s state title game will end a journey that Smith and Rucker started before the turn of this century.
“(We’ve played together since) park and rec...back when we were 9-10 years old,” Smith said.
When asked about their last game together, the seniors had mixed feelings.
“It’s something I’m not looking forward too, but I am looking forward to the game,” Rucker said. “It’s something I really don’t want to think about too much.”
“It’s a happy ending, but a sad ending also.”
Smith best summed up his and Rucker’s relationship when he said: “Things will never change between us, we’ll always be brothers. Win or lose, we’re going to be hanging out on Sunday.”