More consistency in its special teams units is one of the goals Winder-Barrow has entering this football season as the Bulldoggs look to improve upon a 5-6 finish from last fall, reach the state playoffs for a third straight year and claim their first postseason win since 2017.
A couple of key mistakes in that area during the Bulldoggs’ preseason scrimmage Thursday, Aug. 12, against Gainesville, showed that goal is still a work in progress. The Red Elephants blocked an early punt and returned it for a touchdown and then blocked a Winder-Barrow field-goal attempt and later converted it into a score as they knocked off the Bulldoggs 21-7 in the three-quarter varsity portion of Thursday’s contest at W. Clair Harris Stadium. Each team’s junior-varsity squad punched in a touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 28-14 final tally in favor of Gainesville.
The Red Elephants broke through the Winder-Barrow line to get a hand on Alex Hutchison’s punt, and TJ Putman scooped the ball up and raced 46 yards to the end zone for an early 7-0 Gainesville lead with 7:34 remaining in the first quarter.
Winder-Barrow responded with a lengthy drive, finding its way inside the Gainesville red zone before a holding penalty against the Bulldoggs derailed the drive. The Red Elephants came up big again on special teams, smothering Ivan Rodriguez’s 38-yard field-goal try with 2:34 left in the quarter, and a couple of screen passes from Baxter Wright to DJ Miller quickly took them down to the Winder-Barrow 35-yard line. Wright would find Miller on another screen down to the Bulldoggs’ 8, and Naim Cheeks plowed in from 6 yards away two plays later to cap the 72-yard scoring drive with 11:15 left in the first half.
The Bulldoggs would get on the board with a 72-yard touchdown drive of their own later in the second quarter. After Stewart Allen caught a pass from Conyer Smith and dragged Gainesville defenders down to the Red Elephants’ 7-yard line for a 28-yard gain, running back Aidan Thompson found the end zone from 3 yards away two plays later to make it 14-7 with 3:12 to play in the half.
Gainesville’s Macere Walker intercepted a tipped pass by Smith on the opening possession of the third quarter, and the Red Elephants’ defense would get one other key stop toward the end of the varsity portion. After a missed 37-yard field-goal attempt by the Elephants, the Bulldoggs began a long march at their 20, with Trevor Summerfield taking over at quarterback halfway through the drive after Smith was dinged up on a hard hit and exited the game. A couple of big runs by Caiden Carruth and Brandon Hines got the Bulldoggs down to the 10-yard line, but Gainesville’s defense stiffened, forcing a fourth-and-goal situation at the 7. Summerfield put a pass right on the button at the goal line, but the ball slipped through the hands of Austin Cash for a turnover on downs with 1:33 left in the third.
Gainesville wasted no time as Cheeks took a handoff on the next step, got through the first line of Bulldogg defenders and raced 93 yards untouched to make it 21-7.
After the JV squads took over, the Red Elephants further padded their lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Mori Young. The Bulldoggs later responded with a 3-yard touchdown run by Hines.
Winder-Barrow will now get set for its regular-season opener Aug. 20, when it will host cross-county rival Apalachee in the 18th “Battle of Barrow.” The Red Elephants will open their season Aug. 20 against Johns Creek as part of the annual Corky Kell Classic.