Wednesday September 20th, 2017 6:01PM

Gainesville torches Apalachee early, sets sites on Heritage

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
  Contact Editor
GAINESVILLE -- Region 8-AAAAA is not Region 8-AAA -- but two games into league play, Gainesville football is actually making its new schedule look pretty easy.

One week after hanging 62 first half points on Winder-Barrow, the Red Elephants put up 49 more on Apalachee en route to a 62-20 victory on Friday at City Park.

Six different Gainesville players scored in the first half, including special teams -- which blocked an Apalachee punt it recovered in the end zone -- while the Red Elephants rolled up 447 yards of offense to put the contest well out of reach. The visiting Wildcats managed just 45 yards before halftime.

"This is just showing the whole state that we can we play against AAAAA competition," Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson said. "We played great tonight in the first half. The defense played great; my offensive line gave me plenty of time, and the receivers made some great catches."

Watson wasn't too shabby either. He wasn't quite 18-of-18 as in last week's win, but the junior still finished 18-of-21 for 301 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 75 yards and two scores.

"It builds his confidence and builds our confidence in him," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said of Watson. "All of the kids played great in the first half. Deshaun was on; the defense was on. We Got a little sloppy second half, but we're 2-0 (in Region 8-AAAAA), and it's huge to be in this situation."

Gainesville did give up almost 100 yards of offense and three scores in the second half. But the eight-ranked Red Elephants (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA) made up for the reversals with two long kickoff returns for touchdowns -- one each from Fred Payne and Tray Harrison -- as they began to look ahead to next week's big showdown with undefeated Heritage, Conyers.

"I've already forgotten about this one and am looking to that one," Miller said. "That will be a huge game."

Certainly Red Elephants won't be expecting another start like they experienced on Friday. Gainesville opened the scoring just 1:03 into the contest, Watson rumbling into the end zone from five yards. It was all Red Elephants from there, as Gainesville blitzed up and down the field -- largely thanks to Watson's arm. The junior completed 17 of 20 passes in the first half for 294 yards -- including a 14-yard scoring pass to Rodney Lackey in the second quarter. Watson also rushed nine times for 75 yards to help the Red Elephants open a domineering lead. Michael Byrd also rushed for 67 yards. Lackey finished the game with six catches for 109 yards.

Jay Gaudlock and Harrison also added rushing touchdowns in the first half, though it was Gainesville's special teams which put the exclamation point on the opening 24 minutes. Leading 21-0 with less than a minute to play in the first quarter, the Red Elephants pinned Apalachee near its own goal line and forced a punt attempt that Justin Cantrell blocked. The loose ball fell perfectly for Maurice Tanner, who recovered the ball for a 28-0 advantage.

Apalachee did give its fans something to cheer at the start of the second half, as Jody Mathis took the opening kickoff and sprinted 98 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats' joy proved short-lived, however, as the Red Elephants responded with a 90-yard kickoff return of their own, Payne storming into the end zone for a 55-7 lead (the point after attempt was blocked).

Harrison added a 95-yard return in the fourth quarter, sandwiched between two Apalachee touchdown passes for quarterback Clint Ashe (7 of 18, 107 yards). Zay Henry led the Wildcats in rushing with 23 yards on nine attempts.

Apalachee.....0....0....7...13 -- 20
Gainesville...28...21....6....7 -- 62

First Quarter
GHS -- Watson 5 run (Turner kick) 10:57, 7-0
GHS -- Gaudlock 3 run (Turner kick) 7:18, 14-0
GHS -- Lackey 14 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 3:03, 21-0
GHS -- Tanner 0 punt return (Turner kick) :57, 28-0

Second Quarter
GHS -- Harrison 23 run (Turner kick) 7:37, 35-0
GHS -- Byrd 2 run (Turner kick) 3:43, 42-0
GHS -- Watson 4 run (Turner kick) :20, 49-0

Third Quarter
APA -- Mathis 98 kickoff return (Daniel kick) 11:43 49-7
GHS -- Payne 90 kickoff return (kick failed) 11:26, 55-7

Fourth Quarter
APA -- Jackson 14 pass from Ashe (kick failed) 10:49, 55-13
GHS -- Harrison 95 kickoff return (Campos kick) 10:33, 62-13
APA -- Smith 47 pass from Ashe (Daniel kick) 4:17, 62-20
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