Keith MacPherson, Sports Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
AUBREY — Jonathan Mendez loves the sweep.
In two first quarter carries, he showed everyone why.
The junior took a sweep around the left side of the Gainesville offense twice for touchdown runs of 41 and 62 yards to start off a big day as the Leopards rolled past Princeton 40-14 in the Region II-3A area playoffs on Friday at Chaparral Stadium.
“It kind of is (my favorite play),” Mendez said. “We’ve ran it all year and the linemen and receivers know how to block it really well. That’s where I’ve gotten most of my touchdowns.”
Mendez’s scores -- his ninth and 10th on the year -- came on his first two carries of the game. He would finish up with a team-high 111 yards on five carries and would add an interception on defense as well.
“We run buck sweep to that side awful well,” Gainesville coach Keith Hall said. “We really block that play on that side better than we do on the other side. But he runs the buck sweep so pretty. He understands to get parallel, find the blockers and make that cut. He did a great job today.”
Gainesville (12-0) will face powerhouse Kilgore at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Forney’s City Bank Stadium in the Region II-3A final. Kilgore beat Paris 41-14 in the area round to advance.
The Leopards took advantage of the big play early and often -- a trademark of the team throughout the season. Gainesville scored four of its five first half touchdowns from further than 40 yards out.
“All year we have done a great job of starting out fast,” Hall said. “The coaches do a great job of game planning and the kids understand it. We just came out again and played well.”
Leopard running back Adam Berryman ran for 106 yards on 18 carries with two scores. The junior had a 67-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter on a give up the middle in which he bounced off multiple defenders before finding open field.
Berryman’s second touchdown of the day came on the Leopards next possession after his first as he would punch it in from three yards out to make it 28-7 with 8:07 left in the first half. The score culminated the longest sustained drive for Gainesville in the game -- a drive that saw quarterback Denzel Johnson connect with David Moore on two first-down passes before finding the red zone.
Johnson finished with 49 yards on 5 of 7 passing. The senior ran for 42 yards on 12 carries.
Moore electrified the Gainesville crowd with a dazzling 73-yard punt return touchdown in the third quarter. Moore made the first defender miss on a quick move to the left before zipping up the sidelines and later across the field for the score to make it 40-7 with 8:42 left in the third quarter.
“David is such a great athlete,” Hall said. “He’s a great competitor and we’re getting him in some different situations where he can make plays for us.”
Junior quarterback Jourdan Blake led Princeton with 123 yards on 17 carries. The pass-happy offense of the Panthers sputtered with a strong north wind and an aggressive Leopard defense as Blake connected on only 8 of 22 passes for 119 yards and two interceptions.
Blake would find the end zone twice. The first score was on a 25-yard pass to Marquis Thomas right before halftime and the second was on a 48-yard run with 6:48 left in the game.
Moore added an interception in the third quarter on a pass into the end zone intended for Texas Tech commit Jakari Dillard. The future Red Raider was held to one catch for two yards.
Sophomore Malik Johnson made the most of his opportunities for the Leopards. Johnson zoomed past defenders up the friendly sideline for a 79-yard touchdown on his first carry of the game to make it 34-0 with 2:20 left in the first half.
Gainesville forced three turnovers with a forced fumble to go with the two interceptions. Johnson, while playing safety, stripped Blake on a long run in Leopard territory in the second quarter with Demetrius Franklin scooping it up.
“We’re pretty simple but we have great team speed,” Hall said. “And I think that surprised their quarterback. He’s a great ballplayer. But when he fumbled the ball, I don’t think he was expecting there to be four or five guys around him.”
With the win, Gainesville advances to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005 -- the year the Leopards reached the Class 3A Division I state final before falling to Wimberly.
“I told the kids, ‘There are eight teams left,’” Hall said. “’Last year we were 2-8 - who would of thought we would be 12-0?’ “One of our goals is to play for a regional title. I’ve always said that Region II is the toughest region and I’m always going to think that. Now we get to play for it.”