Friday the 13th has a reputation for being unlucky. Not for the Gainesville Leopards.
In their homecoming matchup with River Oaks Castleberry, the Leopards had their rabbit’s feet, four-leaf clovers and lucky horseshoes working overtime as Gainesville had its foot on the gas pedal the entire game en route to a 58-8 victory to start the season 3-0.
Clad in their 2003 state championship throwback jerseys, the Leopards were led by four, first-half touchdowns from senior running back Brandon Baker, who put the team on his back with his physicality and pull-away speed along with their best defensive performance of the season.
“I’ve been saying this since back in March, in 7-on-7 and in the summer, I know these kids can do it. They just have to believe in it,” Gainesville head coach James Polk said. “It can’t just be the coaches. I think they finally got it. I told them that I’ve put myself out on a limb putting the state championship jerseys on them, but that’s the kind of confidence I had to do that because if we had lost, it wouldn’t have been good. These kids deserve to see what success is like.”
The Leopards used their initial drive of the game to instantly take control of the game, marching right down the field for a touchdown.
Beginning at their own 23-yard line, the Leopards used chunk play after chunk play to traipse into Castleberry territory.
Brandon Baker’s 16-yard run put the ball at the 1-yard line and he punched in the touchdown on the next play to put Gainesville up 7-0.
Castleberry used its up-tempo offense to quickly move down the field and it looked as if the Lions were about to tie the game, but the Castleberry quarterback was picked off by CJ Feagins.
The Leopards needed just two plays to get to midfield, where Baker unleashed a 49-yard touchdown run up the left sideline to push the lead to 14-0 with 5:22 remaining in the first quarter.
The Lions finally got the zero off the scoreboard on their next drive, using a 35-yard pass to set up the 11-yard touchdown.
After the Castleberry 2-point conversion, the Lions trailed 14-8.
But that was as close as they got as the Leopards clamped down defensively the rest of the game.
Castleberry’s onside kick attempt was recovered by Gainesville at the Lions’ 46-yard line.
Gainesville went to work and used an 18-yard reception from tight end Tre Lawson to jump start its drive.
Baker dished out another 18-yard run down to the 60-yard line and two plays later Baker had his third touchdown of the quarter with a 7-yard score. Gainesville’s CJ Feagins caught the 2-point conversion to inflate the Leopards’ lead to 22-8 with 2:24 left in the first quarter.
“We had a good clock-eating drive to score and we bowed up and stopped them on defense,” Polk said. “All three phases started out good and that eventually set the tone for the rest of the night.”
Gainesville’s defense held on the next Lions’ drive and after forcing a punt to their own 22-yard line, the Leopards’ offense exploded again.
Two long runs moved the ball to the Leopards’ 46-yard line, where senior quarterback Traylen Shinault launched a 54-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Isaiah Gipson to put Gainesville up 29-8 just nine seconds into the second quarter.
After another Castleberry punt and a Leopards’ fumble, the Lions missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.
The Leopards then employed their grinding ground game on their next drive. Shinault broke loose on a 17-yard scramble to move the ball to the 29-yard line and two plays later, Baker had his fourth touchdown of the half on a 27-yard scamper.
Gainesville’s 2-point conversion run off a botched snap and hold put the Leopards up 37-8 with 2:40 remaining in the first half.
Yet another defensive stand by the Leopards gave them one last drive to end the half and Gainesville took advantage.
Shinault hurled a 67-yard touchdown pass to Hardin with 43 seconds left in the half to send the Leopards into the locker room up 44-8.
Gainesville picked up where it left off in the first half to begin the second half as they used a plodding drive to take a 51-8 lead.
Feagins’ used his shifty ways to conjure an 11-yard touchdown up the right side of the Lions’ defense with just over three minutes left in the third frame.
The rest of the game wrapped up much faster as the game went to a running clock.
Harrison Dempsey then ripped off a 42-yard touchdown up the left sideline to extend the Leopards’ lead to 58-8 with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip