ATLANTA — Before the 2009 season ever started, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller explained to me why winning a state title wasn’t easy.
You see, a state title isn’t won on just talent, hard work and heart; it takes those three things plus a little help from Lady Luck.
On Saturday against Peach County, the top-ranked Red Elephants (14-1) realized just how cruel the mistress Lady Luck can be.
Trailing by seven points with less than a minute to play, Gainesville made its march toward a state title. And when Blake Sims connected with Michael Lorentz for a 25-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock, it appeared that Lady Luck was finally on Gainesville’s side.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, and the 2-point conversion attempt was broken up by Peach County’s Luke Crowell to end the Red Elephants’ season with a 13-12 defeat in the state championship game.
"The comeback was unbelievable," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said while sitting outside the locker room. "It’s just one of those games where you lay awake at night and wonder, what if?"
What if the point after attempt would have gone through the uprights following Gainesville’s first touchdown that cut the deficit to four points?
What if a fourth-quarter Peach County pass on fourth-and-six wasn’t caught after senior linebacker Alberto Sanabria read the play perfectly and tipped the ball before the catch?
What if Crowell wasn’t able to recover his own fumble during Peach County’s final drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal to give the Trojans a 13-6 lead?
What if Crowell is no where around to knock down the pass from Sims to Tai-ler Jones in the game’s final play?
While the answers to the previous three what-if’s are unknown, if Crowell doesn’t knock down the conversion attempt, Gainesville wins the game and its first state championship.
"It’s a game of inches," Miller said. "And tonight it was a game of 3 yards."
But the failure to accumulate those 3 yards doesn’t take away from Gainesville’s season, nor the game plan and execution by Peach County.
By no means was it lucky that Peach County won its third state title since 2005, it just happened that the Trojans had a little bit more luck on their side.
Throughout the game, whether it was being in the right place at the right time for an interception or getting a tipped ball into their hands instead of on the turf, the Trojans had Lady Luck on their side, normally wearing the No. 28 jersey donned by Crowell.
For a brief period in the fourth quarter it appeared that Lady Luck had changed teams.
The first sign of that was when Thomas Sprague forced a fumble that was recovered by Tevin Yarbrough to put Gainesville in great field position. Big Red capitalized on their first play from scrimmage with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Sims to Jones to make the score 10-6.
Then Gainesville’s defense came up with a huge stop on third-and-goal that forced a field goal and set up the dramatic ending.
But that’s when the luck ran out.
The talent was even. The athleticism was even. The heart was even. The desire was even. But luck, like Miller predicted more than four months ago, was steered more in the direction of Peach County than it was Gainesville.
Of course 30 years from now, no one will talk about luck or the what-if’s; they’ll simply remember the fight that Gainesville showed during its biggest game of the year.
"This game will break my heart for years to come," Miller said. "You don’t get many chances to get down here, and to come up short like we did...all you can do is depend on someone to slap you on the back and say ‘well, you came close and great job.’
"We wanted a state championship and that didn’t happen."
Whether or not Gainesville, and Miller for that matter, gets another chance at a state title is anyone’s guess.
But one thing’s for sure, if they do get another opportunity to play for a state championship, the same things will come into play: talent, heart, hard-work, and most importantly, a little luck.