Gainesville keeps district title hopes alive

Friday night’s Class 6A-District 4 game at Citizen’s Field had a lot riding on it.

The loser knew that it was likely eliminated from the district race since St. Augustine was on top of the league standings at 2-0.

Gainesville seized the momentum early, driving 74 yards on its first possession and capping the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Kyree Edwards for a 7-0 lead with 10:24 to play in the opening quarter.

However, with 4:47 to play in the game the Hurricanes stopped a fake punt and added a late score for a 36-27 win against visiting Middleburg (4-3, 1-2) on senior night.

“They’re still maturing,” Gainesville coach Dock Pollard said about his team. “Last week (vs. Buchholz) was a big blow to our guys emotionally because they really, really wanted to win that game. We fought all week trying to get back in motion, level, so we can try and continue on throughout the rest of the season, so I tip my hat to them for answering the call and responding to adversity.”

Middleburg did answer the opening score with a 13-yard touchdown run by Mike Mitchell to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:01 to play in the first quarter.

However, sophomore kicker Cooper Badics gave GHS (5-2, 2-0) the lead again at 10-7 with a 43-yard field goal with 2:54 to play in the first quarter.

GHS senior Quentin Daniels recovered a Mitchell fumble at the Middleburg 5-yard line. On the next play, Edwards scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard run to give the ‘Canes a 17-7 lead with 6:20 to play in the second quarter.

Edwards got some extended playing time after junior running back John Cooper went down with an injury.

“Next man up,” Edwards said. “Just be the best I could be for my team, put them on my back, and get the dub best way I can.”

Badics added a 42-yard field goal with 2:12 to play in the half as the Hurricanes built a 20-7 lead at the break.

However, Middleburg got right back in the game when Caleb Freytag returned the second half kick 93 yards for the score to make it 20-13 just 16 seconds into the third quarter.

The teams exchanged scores, with GHS quarterback Shamon Coleman connecting with Brent King on a 7-yard touchdown pass and Middleburg quarterback Luke Padgett scoring on a 20-yard keeper up the middle.

Then, following Gainesville’s second fumble of the half, Mitchell rushed down the left sidelines for a 48-yard touchdown to tie the game at 27-27 with 3:22 to play in the third quarter.

Badics made his third field goal of the night, a 26-yarder, for a 30-27 lead with 6:28 to play.

Then it came down to defense as GHS’ Ahman Covington stopped a fake punt at the GHS 29-yard line. 

“I live off of pressure,” Covington said. “I read it, stayed patient, and the ball came my way.”

Covington was celebrating his mom’s birthday. She passed away when he was three years old.

“Really, it was just for her,” he said. “She was here for me. She helps me every night. I pray to her every night and I pray to her before every game. I’m thankful to have her.”

Edwards, who was named the Sonic Drive-In Player-of-the-Game, scored his third touchdown of the night, a 2-yard run with 1:33 to play to clinch the victory.

Gainesville will host Ridgeview (Orange Park) in another district game on Thursday, Oct. 21. A win would set up a showdown at St. Augustine on Friday, Oct. 29, for the district title.

“Big game on Thursday night, Ridgeview,” Edwards said. “After you handle business, it’s St. Augustine. This will be a little tough one but I think we’re going to pull it off. We’ve got the talent for it.”

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