Monday January 22nd, 2018 11:11AM

Gainesville watches second-half comeback fall short in 32-30 loss

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
  Contact Editor
GAINESVILLE -- Gainesville football might be playing up in class this season, but one rule still applies to every level of the game: turnovers kill.

That certainly proved the case for the Red Elephants on Thursday as two second quarter interceptions from West Forsyth turned a nip-and-tuck contest on its ear and set the visiting Wolverines on their way to a 32-30 victory at City Park in Gainesville.

The Red Elephants dug in and nearly fought their way back in the second half, but West Forsyth's 25-point second quarter explosion and two more Gainesville turnovers proved too much to overcome.

"We just had too many missed opportunities and we turned the ball over at some horrible times," Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller said. "And then three times in the second half we went down there and got nothing."

The Red Elephants were turned away on three straight trips inside the West Forsyth 25-yard line in the second half before finally breaking through on their fourth attempt -- quarterback Deshaun Watson scoring on a 6-yard run to pull within 32-23. But the Wolverines wouldn't let Gainesville score again until seven seconds remained in the contest, and a desperation onside kick attempt failed, allowing West Forsyth to seal the contest.

"We played a good football team, and when you do that you've got to play a complete game," Miller said. "We played poor defense in the first half and then turned around and played great in the second half. And we just had too many mistakes on offense."

The mistakes -- notably four interceptions -- sullied an otherwise strong performance by the Gainesville offense, which rolled up 433 yards, including 320 through the air.

Watson finished the game 29-of-42 passing, while scoring four touchdowns -- two through the air to Lahius Leverette, who caught passes six passes for 83 yards -- and also rushed for 67 yards. Watson also completed seven passes to Tray Harrison for 84 yards.

But West Forsyth's offense also manufactured more than enough for success, including 334 total yards and a strong performance for senior quarterback A.J. Erdely: 14-of-23 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown, as well as 77 yards rushing and a score. Trevor O'Brien led the Wolverines rushing attack with 79 yards and a score, while Jake Wieczorek added 57 yards and a touchdown, as West Forsyth rolled up 213 yards on the ground -- though only 82 of that came in the second half, as the Red Elephants held West Forsyth scoreless after the interval.

"We've just got to go back and eliminate the mistakes," Miller said. "We'll bounce back. This was just the first game of a long journey."

Gainesville's offense started the 2012 campaign like there had been no offseason, scoring on its opening possession with relative ease, Watson connecting with Leverette for a 41-yard bomb and then hitting the receiver for a 5-yard touchdown pass.

West Forsyth's offense responded with a score of its own, churning out an 11-play drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Erdely to Brian Porter to knot the score at 7-7 with 5:58 left in the first quarter.

The stalemate lasted about six minutes.

Watson put Gainesville back in front with a 2-yard run just moments into the second quarter and heads-up special teams play yielded a 15-7 advantage when Quamon Peeples bulled his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

The score represented the high-water mark for Gainesville in the first half.

West Forsyth's Wieczorek returned the ensuing kickoff to the Red Elephants 18-yard line, setting up a 32-yard field goal for Wolverines kicker Timmy Hartshorn. The kick set the stage for a 25-point second quarter surge from the Wolverines, who took advantage of two interceptions to grab control of the contest.

After pulling ahead 18-15 on a 2-yard run from Erdely and a two-point conversion of its own, West Forsyth forced back-to-back turnovers from the Red Elephants. The first came when Drew Wesolowski outjumped Harrison for a deep pass and returned it from his own 5-yard line to the Red Elephants 33. After a 15-yard late hit penalty, Wieczorek did the rest, rushing 18 yards for a touchdown and a 25-15 lead.

Moments later, the Wolverines pounced again after a pass caromed off a Gainesville receiver's fingertips and fell perfectly for West Forsyth linebacker Josh Salo. The turnover yielded a 14-yard touchdown run for O'Brien with 1:16 left in the half and a 32-15 Wolverines lead.

Salo added another interception in the fourth quarter, while Josh Gordon also picked off a pass in the third quarter, as the Wolverines did just enough to fend off the Red Elephants budding momentum. Gainesville turned the ball over on down on its first possession of the second half and did so again on its third possession. The Red Elephants defense responded, however, and, after forcing just one punt in the first half, forced five in the second half. But Gainesville couldn't take the ball away from the Wolverines, who fumbled three times, recovering all three loose balls.

The Red Elephants will look to bounce back next week when they travel to face Buford.

W. Forsyth.....7...25....0....0 -- 32
Gainesville....7....8....0...15 -- 30

First Quarter
GHS -- Leverette 5 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 10:39, 7-0
WFHS -- Porter 20 pass from Erdely (Hartshorn kick) 5:58, 7-7

Second Quarter
GHS -- Watson 2 run (Peeples run) 11:45, 15-7
WFHS -- Hartshorn 32 field goal, 9:25, 15-10
WFHS -- Erdely 2 run (Anderson run) 5:39, 15-18
WFHS -- Wieczorek 18 run (Hartshorn kick) 3:49, 15-25
WFHS -- O'Brien 14 run (Hartshorn kick) 1:16, 15-32

Fourth Quarter
GHS -- Watson 6 run (Newton run) 5:26, 23-32
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