At times on Thursday night, it appeared the Gainesville football team might get its first win of the season.
However, visiting Matanzas (Palm Coast) used a ball-control offense to slip past Gainesville, 22-14, in a 3S-District 4 game, and spoil homecoming for the Hurricanes.
On its second possession of the game, Matanzas capped an 11-play drive with 23-yard field goal by Landon Grover to take a 3-0 lead with 1:53 to play in the opening quarter.
GHS, which dropped to 0-8 this season, answered on the ensuing kickoff.
Senior John Cooper caught the kick just inside the 1-yard line and returned it 99 yards for the score, giving the Hurricanes a 7-3 lead following Cooper Badics’ extra point.
The visiting Pirates took advantage of good field position on their next possession, at their own 43-yard line and had their own big play.
Pirates quarterback Jackson Lundahl completed a 54-yard scoring pass to Cole Hash down the left sideline for a 10-7 lead with 18 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
Gainesville’s offense struggled most of the night.
After negative yardage on their first possession, the Hurricanes went 3-and-out on their second possession.
Grover added a 42-yard field goal for a 13-7 lead with 5:59 to play in the half.
Gainesville senior Derrick Bloodsworth returned the kickoff 39 yards to put GHS at the Pirates’ 34-yard line. However, the drive stalled and on fourth down, quarterback Mason Zwilling’s pass on 4th down was incomplete and Matanzas took over on downs with 3:29 to play in the half.
When GHS got the ball back with 1:54 to play in the second quarter, the game took a dramatic turn.
Zwilling was body slammed to the ground on a first down run and didn’t return.
The game was marred by unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, injuries, and ejections, along with the Hurricanes’ struggles on offense.
With freshman Tommy Coyne taking over at quarterback, GHS went 3-and-out on its first two possessions of the second half.
An 11-yard touchdown pass from Lundahl to Braden Russell gave Matanzas (3-4) a 19-7 lead with 1:37 to play in the third quarter.
But GHS didn’t give up.
The ‘Canes marched 68 yards for a score, capping the drive with a 23-yard scoring pass from Coyne to sophomore Matt Williams to bring GHS within five at 19-14 with 10:53 to play in the game.
The Gainesville defense held on the Pirates’ next possession, as Bloodsworth’s tackle on a 2nd-and-12 resulted in a two-yard loss on a pass play.
Following a punt, GHS had the ball with a chance to reclaim the lead.
But on 3rd-and-14, Coyne’s potential first down pass to a wide-open Justice Irving went off the senior’s hands at the Gainesville 45-yard line with 8:10 to play.
Another 42-yard field goal by Grover gave the Pirates a 22-14 lead with 2:50 to play.
Things turned ugly from there.
After a penalty by Matanzas on a fair catch on the ensuing kick, GHS took over in Pirates territory at the 45-yard line.
Williams had a 3-yard run but was gang tackled and suffered an injury.
Emotions ran high and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were assessed, plus a GHS assistant was ejected.
With 2:19 to play, Williams laid on the ground for over 20 minutes before being taken away on a stretcher.
The penalties put Gainesville in a 2nd-and-41 from their own 23-yard line.
However, a personal foul, which led to the ejection of Gainesville’s Edson Maldonado, backed the ‘Canes up for a 2nd-and-50, a deficit they weren’t able to overcome.
Coyne was intercepted with 1:17 to play.
Gainesville coach Dock Pollard declined to comment after the game.
GHS, which defeated St. Augustine on the road last year to win the district title, will travel to the Yellow Jackets next Friday night.