Harris County prepares for high-powered Gainesville offense

November 28, 2012 

HAMILTON, Ga. -- Speculating on the demise of Harris County's football season has been a common occurrence for most of the season.

The turnaround is well-known at this point:

The team started the season 0-4, won its first game in triple-overtime and hasn't lost since. Along the way, the Tigers (8-4) have been underdogs to a number of op

ponents, most recently last Friday against perennial power Warner Robins.

Every week, fans "know" it's probably the end of the line for the underdogs. Then, with striking efficiency, Harris County springs the upset to continue a historical season.

It will be a similar scenario when the Tigers host Gainesville (9-3), one of the state's winningest programs, in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals on Friday.

Behind a fast-paced offense led by one of Georgia's top-rated quarterback prospects, the Red Elephants are the latest team projected to end Harris County's season.

But is anyone buying that anymore?

"We go into every week with the same mentality," coach Tommy Parks said. "We believe we can win every time we step on that field."

Running back Esaias Chapman explained it another way.

"We know each team we face going forward is better than the last," he said. "They get tougher and tougher. But every team is the same to us. We worry about what we can do, and nothing else."

With that said, they know they are facing a challenge unlike anything they've faced yet this season.

The Gainesville offense is fast-paced and scores in bunches. Last week, it trailed 35-21 at the half to Kell, before scoring 40 second-half points to win 61-42.

The Red Elephants are led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Clemson commit, who is on pace to break nearly every state passing record by the time he graduates in 2014.

This season, he has completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,053 yards, 41 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. All seven of his interceptions came in the first two games of the season. On the ground, he has rushed for 1,117 yards and 19 touchdowns.

"They're so hard to emulate," Parks said. "Their tempo is so fast. They wear you down, and you start making mistakes because you're tired."

With Gainesville's dangerous offensive ability, a couple of things will be vital for the Tigers to be able to come out with a win.

One is its own running game. Chapman has been a force for the Tigers, racking up 2,002 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season.

A good way to neutralize the Red Elephants offense, Parks said, is to keep it off the field.

"The best defense is a good offense," he said. "Controlling the game on the ground is huge."

He has plenty of confidence in his running back. He praised Chapman's vision, ball security and gamer mentality.

"He's the type of guy, if you give it to him 30 times, he'd ask for it 40," he said.

Couple a strong running game with a strong defensive presence up front, and Harris County has a recipe for success.

Defensive end Jay Ellison, the leader up front for the Tigers, said his team needs to keep pressure on Watson and prevent him from breaking containment.

"We have to close the gaps up front and open some lanes for our linebackers to get to (Watson)," he said. "We can't let him break contain, because we know he can run and pass."

Despite the challenges, Harris County is, once again, confident.

"We have a lot to be proud about practicing after Thanksgiving," Parks said.

"We're excited about the challenge this week. It'll be a lot of fun."

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571

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