State title game a tale of tailbacks


Gainesville running back Ralph Webb makes up half of the Hurricanes' dynamic tandem along with backfield partner Tony James.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 5:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 5:05 p.m.

There will be plenty of playmakers in Saturday's Class 6A state championship game, but perhaps the most attention offensively will be centered on the running backs.

Facts

Class 6A championship

Who: No. 1 Gainesville (14-0) vs. No. 4 Miami Central (11-2)
When: Saturday, 1:07 p.m.
Where: The Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando
TV/online: Cox channel 259/ESPN3
Radio: 104.9 FM

Both sets of running backs.

All season long, the Gainesville Hurricanes' tandem of Ralph Webb and Tony James, aka Thunder and Lightning, have piled up big yardage behind solid blocking from their offensive line, punishing opposing defenses, especially during the state playoffs.

Gainesville's offense will need its best performance of the season against the Rockets, who have a pair of outstanding runners themselves in juniors Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook. Yearby, a Florida State commit, is more of a slasher, between-the-tackles runner while Cook, a Clemson commit, has breakaway speed.

Sound familiar?

“We have a two-headed monster in our backfield,” said Hurricane coach James Thomson. “Both of our backs are good. When we bring in Tony, it is a change of pace with his speed. Ralph is the man, but there is no drop-off when Tony comes in. He is really becoming a tough runner inside. Ralph has also shown his speed as well.

“I would take my kids over any two in the state.”

Both Webb, a senior, and James, a junior, sense top-ranked Gainesville (14-0) has plenty to prove at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. Despite being No. 1 for three months, the 'Canes come in as the underdog to many, including Florida high school football prognosticator Joe Pinkos, who favors the Rockets (11-2) by 3.

“As a whole, we have to go out and shock the world,” said Webb, who has 1,860 yards on the season with 26 touchdowns. “Our backs are against the wall. We have to come out fighting until the very end. There is a lot of talk about Miami. Just one thing they forgot, they have to play us at 1 o'clock.

“This is the best team I have been on since ninth grade. We have such a bond with each other. There are not a lot of individuals. This is the last game, and we need to leave it all out on the field.”

Gainesville has averaged 266.8 yards per game rushing in its four playoff wins with Webb totaling 619 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and 10 TDs while James has 327 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and 2 TDs.

James, a track standout who transferred from Buchholz last summer, has more major Division I offers than anyone at GHS, including UF, FSU, Miami and Ohio State. The speedster topped the 1,000-yard mark last week (1,037 yards, 8 TDs) in Navarre (62-26 state semifinal win).

Although this is the biggest game ever for the team, James said preparation hasn't changed.

“We take it as another game,” he said. “In my opinion, it is a big game with a whole bunch of hype behind it.

“I feel like we have everything to prove since we are the ‘underdog' in this. We need to come out with our GHS swagger and play our game and don't worry about what others are saying.”

Thomson said it will be important for his team to establish the run against Central, which shut down Naples' potent offense in the second half in last week's 48-33 state semifinal win.

“It will be huge. That is football in general, that is always the goal going in,” Thomson said. “We have to set the tone early.”

For James and Webb, the only stat they care about is the final total on the scoreboard favoring the 'Canes.

“This is the last time we will play with this senior class, and we want to send them out with a state championship,” James said. “That's something that hasn't happened here in a long time.”

“Our offensive line is going to come out and fight even harder on Saturday,” Webb said. “We have to pretty much score every time we get the ball.”

NOTE: There will be a special send-off for the Gainesville Hurricanes football team Thursday morning at 9:45 as they board their bus for Orlando. There will also be a mini pep rally and march down the school hall.

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