The Decatur Eagles’ 26 fourth-quarter points could not spoil the Gainesville Leopards’ grand opening party Friday night.
The Eagles (1-1) rallied from a 21-0 first-half deficit to get within two points late in the fourth quarter, but Gainesville (1-1) was able to hold on for a wild 41-33 victory in the first game at Leopard Stadium.
“I’m proud of the character that the kids showed,” said Decatur coach Kyle Story. “But we had too many mistakes, dropped passes, missed blocks and bad execution. It looked like a first scrimmage instead of a second game.”
Missed tackles may have been the biggest problem for the Eagles, who allowed Gainesville to score on six runs of 35 yards or more. The Leopards’ longest scoring drive took just four plays.
“They have kids that are capable of that,” Story said. “Their kids made some good runs, but they also ran through some arm tackles.”
Gainesville rushed for 428 yards on 37 carries. Running back Kenyon Morgan finished with 186 yards on 16 rushes with scoring runs of 60 and 56 yards in the final frame. The 56-yard run with 2:41 left stretched Gainesville’s lead to 41-26.
Quarterback Kielyn Lewis added 151 on 12 rushes. But Lewis’ biggest play of the night came on the defensive side of the ball.
After Decatur fought back to get within two, 28-26, on an 11-yard run by Chris Metts with 4:57 to play, the Eagles went to him again on a misdirection play on the two-point try. As the lone player between the end zone and Metts, Lewis was able to trip in him up just shy of the goal line to preserve the Leopards’ lead.
The Eagles had one last shot after going 70 yards to score on a Brandon Climer 1-yard pass from Tyler Hodges with 1:31 left.
Decatur’s ensuing onside kick bounced off two Gainesville players before Lewis smothered it and clinched the win for the Leopards.
Gainesville built the 21-0 halftime lead on the strength of three long runs.
The play after Decatur failed to pick up the first down at its 40-yard line on a fourth-down pass, Harold Wills broke free for 40 yards to put the Leopards up 7-0.
After another fourth-down stop on the next drive, Gainesville found the end zone again, taking just four plays. Denzel Johnson broke through the middle and found paydirt from 37 yards away.
Johnson left the game after picking off a Hodges pass in the second quarter and did not return.
The Eagles missed on three golden scoring opportunities in the first half – twice dropping open passes behind coverage and then being stopped on a fourth down at the Gainesville 7.
“We had a lot of mental mistakes,” said Hodges, who finished with 149 yards on 32 carries. He also threw for 219 yards, completing 11 of his 25 attempts with two interceptions.
Gainesville wasted no time turning the stop of Decatur inside the 10-yard line into points. On a third-and-12 from his five, Lewis broke free and rumbled 95 yards to put Gainesville up three scores.