GAINESVILLE -- Gainesville's offense came into Friday with an itch to scratch.
Turns out South Paulding made the perfect scratching post.
After last week's up-and-down, first-round performance, the Red Elephants blitzed the Spartans, including an explosive third quarter in a 51-12 second round playoff victory at City Park.
"We wanted to come out and play well tonight; we had not played a complete game in two games really, and I challenged the guys to do that tonight, and they responded," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said.
The Red Elephants did just that, taking a 24-6 halftime lead before cruising back into the quarterfinals for the third straight season courtesy a 27-point third quarter push.
Gainesville will take on Mundy's Mill at City Park next Friday in the third round.
Certainly the Red Elephants (11-1) would love a repeat of Friday's performance that saw the hosts roll up 637 yards -- almost double South Paulding's 317.
Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson bounced back from last week's 20-yard passing performance to throw for 432 yards and five touchdowns, completing 25 of 35 attempts. He also added 107 yards rushing for good measure.
"We knew we had to come out and have firepower early because they could put up some points," Watson said. "And we did that."
Watson and the Gainesville attack proved especially ruthless in the third quarter, as the senior found Chastin Newman and Jay Gaudlock for touchdowns, while Michael Byrd (59 yards rushing, 34 yards receiving) added two 1-yard scoring runs to put the game out of reach.
"That was huge for us in the third quarter, because we knew the defense was stopping them and giving us opportunities," Watson said.
And with the way the half ended, the Red Elephants did not want to let their momentum slip away.
Leading 17-6 after a hardfought opening, the Red Elephants began to gain on the visitors -- and Watson and Orrin Ragland hooked up for perhaps the biggest turning point with 1:23 left in the half, as Watson heaved a deep pass down the middle for the speedster, who ran past two defenders to haul in the 68-yard strike.
"My coaches always say never underthrow the post (route) and I know Orrin can run," Watson said of the touchdown that made it 24-6.
Gaudlock proved Watson's top target, catching 10 passes for 134 yards, while Rodney Lackey hauled in five passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns; Newman also had three catches for 100 yards.
The Red Elephants got off to a near-perfect start, as Devan Stringer intercepted a third down pass on the opening possession to give Gainesville the ball at the South Paulding 20.
The Red Elephants could not punch the ball into the end zone but pulled ahead 3-0 on a 31-yard field goal from Gage Turner with 9:32 left in the first quarter.
Gainesville stretched its advantage to 10-0 with 6:28 left in the quarter, as Watson hit Lackey in the flat and watched the receiver sprint past the Spartans defense for a 20-yard score.
Yet South Paulding (10-2) was not bowed by its early struggles and put together an answering drive late in the first quarter, as Chandler Burks (107 yards rushing, 131 yards passing) burst through the line on fourth and five for a 35-yard scoring sprint. The point after attempt sailed wide to cut the Red Elephants' lead to 10-6.
For the next 12 minutes it was all about timely defense. South Paulding forced back-to-back turnovers on downs inside their own 30, while the Gainesville defense forced two punts before its offense finally got going again on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Watson to Lackey with 4:21 left in the half.
The Red Elephants defense then forced a turnover on downs at their own 32 -- setting up the 68-yard bomb to Ragland.
Turns out the Red Elephants were just warming up. And now they hope to keep that going into next week's quarterfinals.
"We're feeling pretty confident, but we've got to keep getting better," Watson said. "There are no slouches left at this point, and we've got to prepare even harder for the next round."
S. Paulding....6......0......6....0 -- 12
Gainesville....10...14...27....0 -- 51
GHS -- Turner 31 field goal, 9:32, 3-0
GHS -- Lackey 20 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 6:28, 10-0
SPHS -- Burks 35 run (kick failed) 3:33, 10-6
GHS -- Lackey 13 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 4:21, 17-6
GHS -- Ragland 68 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 1:23, 24-6
GHS -- Byrd 1 run (Turner kick) 10:06, 31-6
GHS -- Newman 29 pass from Watson (kick failed) 6:52, 37-6
SPHS -- Bowen 51 run (run failed) 4:32, 37-12
GHS -- Gaudlock 15 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 3:14, 44-12
GHS -- Byrd 1 run (Turner kick) :30, 51-12