Harrison Dempsey

Harrison Dempsey scores a touchdown in Gainesville's season opener against Caddo Mills. The Leopards host Van Alstyne for homecoming Friday night.

It is homecoming week in Gainesville, and the Leopards are looking to cap off the celebration with their first win.

The Gainesville football team welcomew Van Alstyne to Leopard Stadium on Friday night for its last non-district home game, and the Leopards have reason to be excited.

Gainesville (0-3) will finally have most of its team this week with only two players missing. The Leopards had been without eight to nine each week of the season so far.

Van Alstyne (2-1) is looking to rebound from its first loss last week against Anna.

Gainesville coach James Polk said he wants to see the Leopards control what they can control and avoid mistakes.

“The offsides penalties, false start penalties, the fumbling, those are things that we can avoid,” Polk said. “Pass interference calls, the holding and stuff, that’s judgmental. Officials control all that. We can’t control that… But we can control holding on to the football, running hard, effort, not false starting, not jumping offsides.”

Van Alstyne’s offense runs through senior Gavin Montgomery. The Panthers’ starting quarterback has thrown four touchdown passes so far but is also the leading rusher. He has seven of Van Alstyne’s 10 rushing scores and is averaging 102 yards per game.

Junior Jaden Mahan is the other main rushing threat, while junior Dakota Howard is Montgomery’s top receiving target. With so many ways to attack, the Panthers present a challenge to any defense.

Polk said to contain Montgomery, each player needs to play his defensive assignment and not get out of place.

“He’s shifty,” Polk said. “That’s what gets people in trouble. (If) you got two guys in the same gap, they left a gap open. He’s good enough to find it and make something happen.”

Van Alstyne’s defense also presents a challenge. The Panthers allowed its first two opponents, Boyd and Bonham, a combined 22 points and held both under 250 yards of total offense. Anna has been the only team so far to solve their defense by scoring 42 points behind 380 passing yards.

All three of their opponents passed for more yards than they rushed. Gainesville relies mostly on the run, so perhaps the Leopards can present a different challenge to Van Alstyne. Regardless, they will need to have more success running than other teams have had to have a chance to win.

Despite Gainesville’s rough start to the season, there is still plenty of football to play. District play doesn’t begin until Oct. 8, so the Leopards have time to get ready. Polk said the players understand they just have simple mistakes to correct. With most of the team back, the players are excited and confident heading into the final two non-district games.

Polk said the game against the Panthers, despite being non-district, is an important one.

“We need to get that first win in the win column and get a little momentum going,” Polk said. “If we can get this win, get a little momentum going and possibly get a win next week going into the bye week, everybody continue to start getting healthy, (we’ll) be ready to go before that first district ball game against Decatur. We just need to get some steam going.”

Kickoff at Leopard Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.

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