The Apalachee High School football team has had an extra week to prepare for the high-powered Gainesville High School Red Elephants. Now coaches and players are hoping that extra preparation time will pay dividends as the Wildcats host Gainesville Friday at 7:30 p.m.
I hope we have made some improvements,” AHS offensive coordinator Joel Miller said. “We will never truly know until game night. All we can do is continue to work on the things we have to get better at and hopefully the improvement will show Friday. We did have a good week of practice so I am hopeful we did get better.”
While much of the publicity surrounding the Red Elephants centered on the offense and All-State quarterback Deshaun Watson, the defense is nothing to overlook.
“I think their defense is just as good as their offense,” Miller said. “They are big, fast, physical, and they are also very well coached. They don’t ever seem to be out of place. It will be a big challenge for us.”
In their first two games this season, the Wildcats have been led by Jody Mathis (142 yards rushing, one TD), Justin Skinner (92 yards rushing, one TD) and Alantae Billings (53 yards rushing.) Quarterback Chance Rodriguez had passed for 122 yards and one touchdown. Kent Knowles is the team’s leading receiver with 73 yards.
“For us it is important every game to sustain drives,” Miller said. “ We don’t have the burners that can take it to the house from 60 or 70, so we have to put drives together to score.”
Winning the time of possession is something Miller looks for each Friday. That will be especially true this week.
“It is very important because they can score in bunches and they do it fast,” the offensive coordinator said. “Holding the ball is the best defense against a team like Gainesville.”
This will be the Region 8-AAAAA opener for the Wildcats. Gainesville defeated Winder-Barrow High School 68-0 last Friday and enters 1-0 in region and 2-1 overall.
Against WBHS, Watson passed for 310 yards and four touchdowns in just over a half of play. His 31-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter saw him eclipse the 10,000-yard mark for his career. Overall, the Red Elephants had 616 yards of offense while their defense limited Winder-Barrow to 89 total yards.
"We definitely have taken the keep it simple approach this week," said AHS defensive coordinator Matt Sorrells. "We need
to try to do a few things and do them well as opposed to try to do a bunch of different things to try and stop every single thing they do. We will work on what we do throughout the week and try to get better at our basic defensive schemes."
While he has been in the coaching business for several years, Sorrells said the Red Elephants are indeed something special you don't often see.
"Gainesville has the most explosive offense that I have ever faced," Sorrells said. "The speed at which they run plays on top of the number of great athletes they have all over the field all in addition to one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, makes their offense hard to defend."