Monday November 28th, 2022 4:44PM

Football playoffs: Big Red routs Sprayberry, gets 1st playoff win since 2015

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — For the most part, it was exactly the kind of playoff game Gainesville had been waiting for for seven years.

The Red Elephants jumped on Sprayberry quickly with 21 first quarter points and eventually rolled to a 51-21 win Friday night at City Park Stadium in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.

The victory for Gainesville (11-0) snapped a 6-game playoff losing streak going back to a win over Alexander in 2015.

Gainesville will play host to South Paulding, a 28-13 winner over Sequoyah, next week in the second round at City Park.

Gainesville piled up 358 yards by halftime behind 4 TD passes from Baxter Wright, 177 yards rushing from Naim Cheeks, and 2 TD catches from Sky Niblett. They had 7 plays of 20-yards or more in the opening 24 minutes and finished with 12 plays of 20 or more yards for the game.

Wright finished the game 15-of-22 for 295 yards and 5 TDs on the night. Niblett had 4 catches for 86 yards and the 2 TD catches. Travien Watson had 3 catches for 73 yards and 1 TD, and Tre Reece added 3 catches for 50 yards and 2 TDs.

“They gave us man coverage so we had some matchups we liked and Baxter did a good job of spraying the ball around on the perimeter,” Gainesville coach Josh Niblett said. “Our offensive line did a great job tonight and getting the ball into Naim’s hands is part of our plan.

“Naim gets a lot of yards after contact. He’s like a rubber band out there just bouncing off of people. He was really good tonight.”

Cheeks finished with 244 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries. The senior running back said they wanted to break that playoff drought.

“It feels great. We really needed this; the city needed this; and we wanted this bad,” Cheeks said. “The line did a great of moving (the Sprayberry defense) out and we ran it down their throat. It felt great.”

The defense also looked stout holding the Yellow Jackets (4-7) to -13 yards rushing in the first half and just 35 yards rushing for the game. However, they also allowed two long touchdown passes from the Sprayberry tandem of junior quarterback Kemari Nix and sophomore receiver Mark Manfred in the first half, including a 78-yard bomb as time expired on the first half.

Nix would close out his season throwing for 274 yards and 3 TDs while Manfred had 6 catches for 203 yards and all 3 TD catches.

“We did some things uncharacteristic of our defense, giving up the big plays on third down, but I thought we did a good job of making them one-dimensional in the first half,” Niblett said.

The Red Elephants offense displayed their quick-strike capability with possessions of just four, three, and one play(s) on their first three scoring drives. They scored on five of their six first half possessions while building a 35-14 lead. They led 49-14 midway through the third quarter.

After the defense forced a quick 3-and-out to open the game, the Gainesville offense needed just four plays to grab the lead as Cheeks raced 47 yards for a score.

The Yellow Jackets answered right back, however, getting a 68-yard bomb from Nix to Manfred on a 3rd-and-15 to tie the game at 7. That’s when Wright and the passing game exploded.

Wright connected on a 27-yard TD pass to Niblett, a 43-yard TD pass to Reece, a 39-yard strike to Watson, and an 18-yard TD pass to Niblett again on four consecutive possessions for a 35-7 lead to blow the game open.

Nix found Manfred, who had gotten behind the Gainesville secondary, for their second TD as time expired on the first half to cut it to 35-14.

Cheeks scored on a 55-yard run and Wright and Reece connected again on a 7-yard TD pass in the third quarter to run the lead out to 49-14.

Now the task will be advancing to their first quarterfinals since 2014. Niblett said the first step was just learning how to get that first playoff win. 

“The first one is always the biggest one. You have to get that first one to keep advancing,” Niblett said.

“We needed to learn to settle down and I think we did that tonight,” Cheeks said. “I think we’re ready to roll now.”

Sprayberry.........7......7....7.....0 -- 21
Gainesville.......21....14...14....2 -- 51

First Quarter
G -- Cheeks 47 run (Guerra kick) 7-0, 8:54
S -- Manfred 68 pass from Nix (Spink kick) 7-7, 7:02
G -- Niblett 27 pass from Wright (Guerra kick) 14-7, 2:26
G --Reece 43 pass from Wright (Guerra kick) 21-7, :14

Second Quarter
G --Watson 39 pass from Wright (Guerra kick) 28-7, 6:44
G -- Niblett 18 pass from Wright (Guerra kick) 35-7, 1:29
S -- Manfred 78 pass from Nix (Spink kick) 35-14, 0:00

Third Quarter
G -- Cheeks 55 run (Guerra kick) 42-14, 8:56
G --Reece 7 pass from Wright (Guerra kick) 49-14, 5:42
S -- Manfred 30 pass from Nix (Spink kick) 49-21, 3:49

Fourth Quarter
G -- Safety 51-21, 0:51

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Gainesville football
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