Behind nine total turnovers and a two-touchdown performance from D.J. Hepburn, Gainesville fell 21-0 to Leon (Tallahassee) on Friday.
Both teams saw their practice schedules affected due to Hurricane Idalia, and damp field conditions at Citizens Field did no favors for either squad. According to Gainesville coach Ian Scott, the Hurricanes only had one practice this week that lasted an hour and a half
“Those guys played their hearts out tonight, and I was proud of the effort in general,” Scott said. “There were obviously mistakes that showed up from not being able to have a lot of time to prepare. There were also some mistakes that were a lot of self-inflicted. We didn’t take care of the football.”
The abbreviated practice schedule and field conditions affected the Hurricanes, who lost four fumbles and threw five interceptions between quarterbacks Andreas White, Tommy Coyne and Mason Brewer.
Despite the turnover issues, Gainesville’s defense consistently made stops. The Hurricanes intercepted one pass, recovered a fumble and forced multiple punts.
“For the defense to continue to show up and fight and keep us in a situation where we had a chance to stay in the game was phenomenal,” Scott said. “I was proud of those guys for sure.”
Meanwhile, Leon coach Tyrone McGriff, who has led the team to their first 2-0 start since 2018, was proud of how his team responded to the adversity.
“Adversity is always gonna come and when it comes, we don’t get to determine what that adversity looks like. And our team knows that,” he said. “Anytime you have that adversity, you have to figure out a way to overcome and still get better and not make excuses.”
After a fumble recovery and another stop on defense to start the game, Hepburn began the scoring with a 30-yard touchdown run on fourth down. A missed PAT put Leon up 6-0 with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
“My coaches really trust me with the ball whenever we need a big play,” Hepburn said. “It’s not just me, it’s my team. I can’t do what I did without them. It was a big momentum shift.”
The second quarter was much of the same. Gainesville forced a punt to start the quarter, but an interception by Leon’s Isaiah Jones put the ball in Gainesville territory.
Facing another fourth down, Hepburn scored his second touchdown of the night on a 5-yard run with 2:40 left in the half to put the Lions ahead 12-0.
“Kepburn was our offseason leader and is our team leader,” McGriff said. “You’re talking about a very strong, fast running back that can just do things that other people can’t do. Anytime you have somebody like that, it’s truly special.”
Gainesville would throw another interception, this time to Knyon Simmons, before the half was over.
The Hurricanes would have immediate momentum in the third quarter with an interception by Karell Pope and would find the endzone with a short touchdown run by White. However, an illegal assisting penalty on the Hurricanes would negate the score.
On the next play, White’s pass was intercepted by Zephaniah Edward in the end zone. The turnover mirage continued in the third quarter with Gainesville fumbling twice, and Leon fumbling once.
Jones would get another takeaway by recovering Gainesville’s second fumble of the quarter and returning it 37 yards to the Hurricanes’ 3-yard line. Quarterback Kemp Peoples would punch it in for the game’s final touchdown to open the fourth quarter with the Lions up 18-0.
Leon would intercept two more passes in the fourth quarter, one by Mason Tootill and another by Brenton Rucker, and added a 26-yard field goal by A.J. Winn for the final 21-0 score.
Gainesville (0-2) will look to earn their first win since 2021 on the road next week when they take on Trinity Catholic (0-1).
Friday, Sept. 1
Buchholz 53, Riverview (Sarasota) 31
Eastside 35, Keystone Heights 0
Hawthorne 40, Newberry 10
Leon (Tallahassee) 21, GHS 0
Oak Hall 34, Bishop Snyder (Jacksonville) 13
Lanier County (Lakeland, GA) 33, Santa Fe (Alachua) 3
Williston 53, First Coast (Jacksonville) 36
Taylor (Pierson) 40, St. Francis Catholic Academy 18
Chiefland 42, Wildwood 26
Saturday, Sept. 2
Bradford (Starke) at Baldwin, 6:30 p.m.