CUMMING -- It was not the start Gainesville would have wanted.
But the finish was pretty darned impressive.
Trailing West Forsyth 14-3 with 5:09 left in the first quarter, the Red Elephants showed the kind of explosive play that helped bring Gainesville the 2012 Class AAAAA crown, outscoring the Wolverines 55-14 en route to a 58-28 victory in Cumming.
The Red Elephants rolled up 661 yards on the night, including 496 through the air -- 383 of that for senior standout Deshaun Watson. But it was Gainesville's defense that turned the tide, halting West Forsyth's fast start in the second quarter.
After watching the Wolverines score on each of their first three possessions, the top-ranked Red Elephants (1-0) began to clamp down, allowing the Red Elephants offense to vault ahead 24-21 on an inch-perfect touchdown pass from Watson to Orrin Ragland with 2:52 left in the half.
Seconds later Gainesville linebacker Devan Stringer put an exclamation point on the comeback, picking off Hampton McConnell's pass near midfield to set up a Watson-to-Chris Williamson scoring strike. The touchdown pushed the Red Elephants ahead 31-21 at the interval and gave the visitors firm control of the contest.
"Devan's interception turned the whole momentum of the game around," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "We just kept fighting back and fighting back, and that really tipped it for us there before the half."
Gainesville allowed just one more touchdown the rest of the way, and by the time West Forsyth running back Trevor O'Brian scored early in the fourth quarter, the Red Elephants held a 52-28 advantage.
"It says a lot for our kids and coaches that nobody panicked there early," Miller said. "We just needed a couple of stops, and we got them and started rolling."
Offense was never in doubt for the Red Elephants on Friday, as Watson rushed for 70 yards and completed 28 of 42 passes for four scores