GHS plays in 6A state semifinal Friday


Gainesville High School players take part in drills during a practice at the school in Gainesville, Tuesday Dec. 4, 2012. The Purple Hurricanes, ranked No. 1 in the state, are preparing to travel to Navarre High School and play for the right to be in the Class 6A state title game.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.

Ever since Dec. 2, 2011, the night of a 17-14 third-round playoff loss at Seffner Armwood, Gainesville High players talked about a revenge season.

Facts

Friday's games

Class 1A state final
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando
No. 1 Trenton (13-0) vs. No. 4 Bratt Northview (10-3), 7:07 p.m.
Online broadcast: http://bit.ly/R91qam

Class 6A state semifinal
No. 1 Gainesville (13-0) at No. 10 Navarre (12-1), 8:30 p.m. EST
Radio: 104.9 FM, pregame at 8
Online broadcast: http://bit.ly/YC0775

Friday night, 341 miles from home, the Class 6A No. 1 Hurricanes look to end another team’s state title dreams and move their own closer to reality. Gainesville visits No. 10 Navarre, which a week ago upset No. 5 Columbia, in Friday's state semifinal.

On the line is a berth to the state championship game Dec. 15 at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.

“They are staying focused,” said second-year Hurricanes coach James Thomson. “I think they are realizing the dream could possibly become a reality. It is right there in front of us.”

Gainesville (13-0), ranked No. 16 nationally by ESPN and No. 25 by MaxPreps, played three straight playoff games at home and dominated the last team it lost to, Armwood (42-10), in last Friday’s Region 2 final.

That same night, Navarre (12-1) won its 11th straight and perhaps the biggest game in school history by upsetting the visiting Tigers 28-21 in the Region 1 final, setting up Friday's showdown. It marks the Hurricanes’ second trip to the state semifinals in three years while the Raiders are making their first.

“We respect Columbia, and anyone that beats them has our attention,” Thomson said. “They are good. They are 12-1, and your record is your biggest stat. You have to limit the big plays.”

A week ago, Columbia played after taking a 4 1/2 bus trip from Lake City on game day to Northwest Florida. The Tigers gave up an opening kickoff return for a score and were down 21-0 by early in the second quarter. Although they tied it at 21, the Raiders scored in the fourth quarter and made a goal line stand late to preserve the victory.

“I was certainly proud of our kids for last week’s victory,” said Navarre first-year coach Jay Walls. “They scored on the first play of the second half, and from that point on we were able to shut them out. We have done that all year and have won some close games in the last minute.

“We are going to have to play four quarters and take care of the football against Gainesville. Their kids are very fast and play very hard. We hope to keep it close. If it is a close ball game, our defense has come up with big plays.”

The GHS defense has given up just 32 points in its last five games, and the offense has outscored its three playoff opponents 123-23. In their win over Armwood, the ’Canes totaled 333 yards on the ground, led by Ralph Webb with a season-high 213 yards and three TDs.

“I know they run the spread and our defense is kind of used to that since coach (Ryan) Smith used to run that my sophomore year,” said ’Canes linebacker Alex Gonzales. “I'm not going to underestimate them. I’m going to go there and play hard. We want to make history.”

A Gainesville victory would set a school record for wins in a season and would send the ’Canes to their first state title game in 32 years.

“We have been working for it. This has been a revenge season,” said GHS quarterback Mark Cato. “We have that mentality to play 100 percent every play.”

“Every great team goes through adversity, it is just how you handle yourself in the face of it,” said running back Tony James. “You can either lay down or pick yourself up and just play. Whatever it takes to win the game, that’s what we will do, whether we are running it or throwing it.”

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