Before the season began, Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller said he foresaw big things from new quarterback Tre’ Luttrell.
In his debut as a Red Elephant on Friday night, the junior signal-caller delivered on his coach’s prediction.
Luttrell threw three touchdown passes to lead Gainesville to a 20-0 win against West Hall High at City Park Stadium in Gainesville in the second annual Marvin Orenstein Kickoff Classic.
Despite a pair of fumbles, Luttrell was one of the brightest spots as the Red Elephants opened the year 1-0. On top of his 144 yards on 10 of 19 passing, he flashed decisiveness and agility while racking up 81 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
“That’s the kind of game we need to get from Tre’ if we’re going to be good,” Miller said. “ … He’s getting more and more of a grasp of our offense, but it’s still going to be a learning experience for him.”
The Spartans (0-1) struggled to find any consistency on offense after the departure of three-year starting quarterback Jacob Satterfield and several other starters. West Hall coach Tony Lotti praised the toughness of sophomore Michael Thompson, who saw most of the snaps at quarterback.
Lotti made a similar assessment of his entire team, noting the disparity in depth and speed between his Class 4A Spartans and the Class 6A Red Elephants.
“I’m really proud of our heart and our effort,” the coach said. “We played with them physically, but our stamina just kind of ran out … This is an important game, and it’s why I scheduled it, because our kids learned a lot and now we know what we have to fix.”
Sophomore Justice Johnson, junior Tre Blackwell and senior Tyriq Kabir hauled in Gainesville’s three scores, with Blackwell providing a remarkable play. After catching the ball 25 yards from the end zone as the first half expired, Blackwell broke about four tackles down the right sideline to put the Red Elephants up 13-0.
“I thought they tackled him about three times,” Miller said, still incredulous.
Gainesville’s opening possession was its smoothest of the entire evening, a 14-play march during which Luttrell showcased his decision making skills in the motion-based spread option.
The Red Elephants picked up six first downs on the drive while running the ball on all but their last play. After Luttrell picked the Spartans apart with smart reads and shifty running, he executed a play-action pass for a 10-yard touchdown toss to Johnson.
From there, the rest of the first half became marred by fumbles and penalties, most of which were personal fouls. Each team committed eight penalties for a combined 165 yards before halftime.
West Hall recovered all five first-half fumbles, with junior Corey Dupree and senior Austin Sinclair scooping up both of Gainesville’s. The Spartans advanced past midfield three times in the opening half but came away with no points as Gainesville middle linebacker Keith Harris created havoc with a sack and several tackles for loss.
“The defense played excellently, and I think you can say that any time you pitch a shutout,” Miller said. “Think of how many times we had to make a stand to keep them out of the red zone there in the first half.”
Both defenses stood tall until Blackwell’s jaw-dropping play to end the first half, which Lotti said swung the momentum in the Red Elephants’ favor despite the blocked extra-point attempt.
Gainesville rode that wave to start the second half as Luttrell launched a 37-yard scoring strike to Kabir on the opening possession. He tossed a 41-yard touchdown to Blackwell on the Red Elephants’ next drive, but it was negated by an illegal-man-downfield infraction.
The teams combined for just one first down the rest of the night, and it was the result of a penalty. West Hall missed a 33-yard field goal with just more than a minute remaining.
Freshman Montavious Tabor appeared to win Gainesville’s running back battle coming out of fall camp, as evidenced by his 16 carries for 75 yards. Spartans senior running back Cooper Adams carried gained 31 yards on 12 carries.
Though the squads combined to commit 28 penalties Friday night, Lotti hoped Orenstein — a long-time supporter of Hall County high school athletics who died in 2012 — was proud of their performance.
“I hope Mr. Orenstein was looking down and saw a bunch of kids that played their hearts out,” Lotti said. “Just two well-coached teams giving it all they’ve got.”
Gainesville travels to Alpharetta High next week, while West Hall will take on Johnson High at home.