Tuesday May 24th, 2016 3:51PM

Red Elephants ready to erase disappointments with playoff win

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
GAINESVILLE -- Entering the 2012 campaign there was not one player on the Gainesville football roster that knew a losing skid at the varsity level.

Sure there were defeats here and there for the Red Elephants but back-to-back setbacks were something consigned to the past. In fact not since 2007 had Gainesville dropped multiple games on the trot, going 48-6 from 2008-2011.

On Friday, however, the Red Elephants will enter the Class AAAAA playoffs looking to shake off their first such slide in five years after dropping consecutive games to Loganville and Flowery Branch to close out the regular season.

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller says his team is champing at the bit to erase the memories of those two results.

"We're not used to losing around here, and that's a good thing," Miller said. "These kids don't like losing, and they're eager to bounce back."

To do so, the Region 8-AAAAA runner-up Red Elephants (7-3) must find a way past a Rome team that enters the postseason as No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAAAA. And Miller notes that will be no simple feat.

"They're very fast; they're athletic... They'll be one of the most athletic teams we've played all year," Miller said. "They're also a physical team that is well-coached, and they come out of a good region."

The Bears (8-2) will bring a wing-T attack to City Park that is capable of chewing up yards in chunks. Led by the running back duo of Myron Washington (1,273 yards, 11 TDs) and Frank Griffin (985 yards, TDs), both juniors, Rome's offense enters the playoff battle averaging 36.7 points per game. Quarterback Bo Tucker is also a capable passer (520 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT), and has forged a strong partnership with receiver Antarius Finley (16 catches, 194 yards, 5 TDs), but Gainesville's defense knows it must be at its best to slow Rome's ground game.

"Our run defense will have to be first class," Miller said.

After giving up 81 points combined in the Red Elephants two losses, Gainesville's defense is amped up to clamp down in the postseason.

"They want to step it up this week, definitely," Miller said. "We played really well in the first half against Flowery Branch but we didn't keep it up for an entire game. And the whole team has to turn in a complete game. But the guys feel like they're ready to do that. We've had two great days of practice so far."

Offensively, the Red Elephants will continue to spread the ball around to their numerous playmakers, looking to overwhelm a Rome defense that is allowing 28 points per game.

"They've not faced many teams that do what we do," Miller said. "And we've done a great job getting the ball to a lot of different guys who can make plays. I wouldn't want to try to have to figure out a way to stop what we do on offense."

The Red Elephants' spread attack ranks third in scoring at 43.7 points per game and is led by dynamic junior quarterback Deshaun Watson -- who has piled up 2,598 yards passing and 34 TDs against 7 interceptions while completing 68 percent of his attempts. Watson also leads Gainesville in rushing with 875 yards and 13 TDs. Michael Byrd is second on the team with 415 yards and 4 TDs.

Rome's defense will also be forced to cover a number of dangerous receivers, including Rodney Lackey (team-high 44 catches, 722 yards, 12 TDs), Lahius Leverette (30 catches, 438 yards, 4 TDs), Caleb Hayman (30 catches, 494 yards, 8 TDs) and Tray Harrison 26 catches, 379 yards, 3 TDs.

"Right now it's a five-game season in the playoffs, and everything starts over," Miller said. "We're glad we have a chance to bounce back from those last two losses, and we know we're going to have be at our best to do that."

Impress over the next few weeks, and that two-game skid may seem like ancient history as well.

-- NOTES: This will be the first match-up between the two schools -- Rome High has only been around since 1992 after merging East and West Rome high schools. ... Rome has not won a playoff game since reaching the Class AAAA semifinals in 2008. ... Gainesville is 7-0 in first round home playoff games under Bruce Miller.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: City Park, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 1240 AM
-- ROME (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 5-AAAAA): Defeated Woodland (Cartersville) 44-34 last week.
-- GAINESVILLE (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAAA): Lost to Flowery Branch 35-34 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Kell vs. Southwest DeKalb winner
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