Posted: Saturday, October 20th 2012 at 2:47am
Red Elephants rally to stomp Gladiators, 49-28
By Morgan Lee Editor
Gainesville's Jay Gaudlock, (15) pulls away from the Clarke Central defense during the Red Elephants' 49-28 win on Friday in Gainesville. / photo: David Weikel
GAINESVILLE -- Gainesville had not trailed since Sept. 7 -- in fact the Red Elephants had not even been tested in a game since that 19-15 defeat of Buford.
On Friday, Gainesville showed it hasnít forgotten how to handle adversity.
Trailing a fired up Clarke Central 21-7 in the first quarter, the Red Elephants exploded for four unanswered touchdowns, sparking a 49-28 victory over the Gladiators at City Park.
"On the sidelines we just told ourselves that we had to scratch, fight and claw for everything," Red Elephants linebacker Devin Stringer said.
Eighth-ranked Gainesville (7-1, 6-0 Region 8-AAAAA) overcame two early turnovers by forcing three turnovers of its own, along with three turnovers on downs. And then, as ever, there was Deshaun Watson.
The junior quarterback, who was responsible for both Red Elephants fumbles, rebounded to torch the Gladiators (3-4, 3-2) for seven total touchdowns and 413 yards. The dual threat acted as both bulldozer and surgeon, rushing 23 times while also completing 23 of 32 passes for 239 yards and six touchdowns.
"At first I was frustrated by the turnovers, but then as soon as I got close to the sideline, I was like 'OK, let's just think about the next play,'" Watson said. "I can't let the team down."
Watson combined with four different receivers to find the end zone, including three scoring passes for Rodney Lackey, who finished with four catches for 62 yards. Lahius Leverette also caught eight balls for 60 yards and score, while Caleb Hayman and Tray Harrison also hauled in touchdowns, as Gainesville overcame some early pressure from the Gladiators defense.
"Their defensive linemen and linebackers were shifting around a lot, confusing us a little up front, and their secondary did a good job covering up some things early," Watson said. "But we adjusted pretty well."
Gainesville's defense also adjusted, allowing just one touchdown after watching Clarke Central pull ahead 21-7. And while the Red Elephants gave up 377 yards, their ability to force turnovers proved key.
"Once the momentum swung with those turnovers we told ourselves we couldn't give it back," Stringer said. "We just told each other to be strong. It was a tough game, but that was much needed."
Turnovers provided the spark for both teams early -- Clarke Central using two Gainesville giveaways to pull ahead in the first quarter before the Red Elephants stormed back into the lead courtesy three second quarter turnovers from the Gladiators.
After a tough first quarter that included two fumbles -- one of which the Gladiators scooped and returned for a touchdown -- Watson rebounded in style in the second quarter, manufacturing four straight touchdowns, including three scoring passes, to put Gainesville back in control.
"That was just an incredible team effort," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "Everybody stepped up and did what they had to do, and I'm so proud of these guys. This was huge for us."
The Gladiators had responded to a 7-0 deficit -- on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Watson to Lackey -- with three straight scores.
The Gladiators used a 3-yard touchdown run from Jalani Payne -- who rushed for 126 yards on 21 carries -- to get on the board and scored again three plays later when Watson was hit twice in the backfield, fumbling the ball into the waiting hands of Kavon Williams, who scampered 20 yards for the lead -- 14-7 after a two-point conversion pass to Amir Williams.
The Gladiators swarmed Watson again on the ensuing possession, forcing another fumble that Clarke Central recovered and marched 26 yards for a 21-7 lead on Baylor Wardís one-yard run with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
There was no panic from Gainesville, however, as Watson led Gainesville to an answering score on the next possession. The Red Elephants then forced a Gladiators fumble on the ensuing kickoff, setting up a 13-yard scoring pass from Watson to Harrison to tie the game at 21-21.
Gainesvilleís defense also came up big in the second quarter, as Quamon Peoples picked off a Cameron Johnson pass and returned it to the Clarke Central 42 -- part of an impressive surge from the Red Elephantsí unit, which hit and sacked Johnson frequently through the rest of the game, including on the interception. The turnover set up a 20-yard scoring pass from Watson to Caleb Hayman with 6:35 left in the half.
Clarke Central attempted to regain the momentum with a fake punt near midfield with just over four minutes remaining -- but the Red Elephants swarmed the fourth-down pass, forcing a turnover on downs that set up another Gainesville touchdown pass to Lackey, who stretched to haul in the 13-yard effort from Watson.
Clarke Central trimmed the lead to a touchdown midway through the third quarter on a three-yard run from Payne, but Gainesville responded again, Watson finding Lackey for a four-yard score and a 42-28 advantage. The quarterback added the final touch with a six-yard pass to Leverette early in the fourth quarter, sealing a hardfought victory.
"It's good to have games against teams like that; that's the way it's going to be in the playoffs," Watson said. "And we want to show what Gainesville can do in games like that."
The Red Elephants will have a bye next week before playing host to Loganville on Nov. 2. The game could well be precursor to a region title showdown at Flowery Branch on Nov. 9.
Clarke Central....21.....0....7....0 -- 28
Gainesville..........7....28....7....7 -- 49
GHS -- Lackey 36 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 8:35, 7-0
CC -- Payne 3 run (kick failed) 6:29, 7-6
CC -- Williams 20 fumble return (Williams pass from Johnson) 4:34, 7-14
CC -- Ward 1 run (Germain kick) 2:41, 7-21
GHS -- Watson 3 run (Turner kick) 11:55, 14-21
GHS -- Harrison 13 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 9:40, 21-21
GHS -- Hayman 20 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 6:35, 28-21
GHS -- Lackey 13 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 1:26, 35-21
CC -- Payne 3 run (Ward kick) 8:22, 35-28
GHS -- Lackey 4 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 5:15, 42-28
GHS -- Leverette 6 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 11:55, 49-28
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