No. 1 Gainesville gets by Knights
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 12:30 a.m.
Gainesville played just poorly enough to lose, while Ocala Vanguard played just well enough to win.
Luckily for the Hurricanes, neither of those things happened on Friday at Citizens Field.
In an otherwise ugly offensive game, Gainesville's Ralph Webb broke free for two long touchdown runs, while quarterback Mark Cato threw for another score in a 21-10 victory that sent the Hurricanes into next Friday's Region 2-6A final against Seffner Armwood.
"In the playoffs there's always that one round where you struggle," Gainesville coach James Thomson said. "Hopefully, that was our one round and hopefully in the third round we can get back to playing Gainesville football."
The No. 1-ranked Hurricanes committed four total turnovers and surrendered the game's momentum to the visiting Knights for much of the second half before finally surviving. They can thank senior rusher Ralph Webb for that. On a night when offensive breathing room was hard to find, Webb made Vanguard pay dearly for any holes left open.
His 36-yard touchdown burst with 2:18 remaining — just one play after a controversial defensive chop block call awarded Gainesville a pivotal first down — put the game on ice for the Hurricanes. He also set the tone in the first quarter with a 72-yard dash down the sideline for a 7-0 lead.
Webb credited a pair of teammates for setting up his first TD.
"Case Harrison made a great block, Marquis Richards came around and pulled," Webb said. "Them boys, they made great blocks for me to get outside the gate."
Webb finished with 174 yards on just 16 carries, a 10.9 per-carry average, and said post-game he was only trying to deliver on a promise he made to his teammates.
"I told my teammates I won't let them down through the playoffs," he said. "I'm going to fight my hardest to take us all the way."
Cato, despite a less-than-crisp performance that included two interceptions and a fumbled handoff, engineered a snappy two-minute drill at the end of the second quarter that resulted in Case Harrison's 31-yard touchdown catch and a 14-3 lead that would prove to be very important.
"That was an unbelievable pass to get us into the half with a bigger lead," Thomson said.
Vanguard (6-6) put a serious second-half scare into the Hurricanes.
The Knights benefited from four total GHS turnovers and, after being held to just seven first-half rushing yards, stormed out of halftime with a six-play, 66-yard scoring drive on nothing but rushes.
Gainesville went scoreless through all but the final two minutes of the second half, but the Hurricane defense held up through two different fourth-quarter drives that begin on the wrong side of the 50, including one at the GHS 23.
"Gainesville did a good job defending us," Vanguard coach Alex Castaneda said. "We made some (offensive) adjustments in the second half and got it going, but they have a great defense and they just outmanned us there."
Gainesville (12-0) advanced to the regional finals for the third straight season and will face Armwood (9-3) for the second straight year.
In the 2011 playoffs, it was Armwood that carried the No. 1 state ranking, but the Hurricanes pushed them to the limit before falling 17-4.
Armwood went on to win the state championship game, but later was forced to vacate that title — and the win over Gainesville — for using players who were found to have falsified residency claims.
Andy Marks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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