It has been a phenomenal and perhaps unprecedented season for Deshaun Watson.
The Gainesville quarterback enters Friday’s Class AAAAA championship game against Ware County with 3,707 yards passing, 1,356 yards rushing and a combined 69 touchdowns this season for the classification’s highest-scoring team. He has broken the state record for career touchdown passes (105) and needs just 17 yards to break the career passing yardage record of 9,062. And he’s just a junior.
“He just does a lot of things you can’t teach,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “You try to teach it, but he’s just got a lot of natural ability and calmness to make things happen. His ability to manage the game while he’s out there is just uncanny. You’re just glad he’s on your team.”
Now Watson and the Red Elephants are one victory away from the first state championship in school history. To take that final step, however, Gainesville will have to get past a Ware County team that in many ways is the opposite of the Red Elephants.
The Gators, also seeking their first state championship, are more of a run-oriented, ball-control team and have the top-ranked defense in Class AAAAA, allowing 8.6 points per game with five shutouts. They have Region 3’s co-player of the year in running back/linebacker Xavier Tobler and the defensive co-player of the year in lineman Jimal McBride.
“We have good players and coaches on defense,” Ware County coach Ed Dudley said. “We put an emphasis on that throughout the program, so kids grow up with the high expectations to play well.”
It is that battle between the Gainesville offense and the Ware defense where the game is likely to be decided.
“You try to take away the throw by putting more people in coverage, and then [Watson] pulls it down and runs all over you,” said Kell coach Derek Cook, whose team lost to Gainesville 61-42 in the second round of the playoffs. “If you try to blitz him, put pressure on him to try to make him get rid of the ball, he does that well. He’s accurate, he hurts you like that. I really don’t know how you’re going to figure out how to stop him.
“They’re going to have to beat themselves, I think, with some turnovers, missed assignments, dropped passes, stuff like that. Or [Ware County] is going to have to play incredible ball-control offense and not let them get on the field very much.”
Ware County has proven it can slow down good offenses. Stephenson was averaging 36.4 points before being shut out and held to 63 total yards by the Gators in the quarterfinals. Northside-Warner Robins was averaging 43.8 points before being held to 17 by Ware in an overtime loss last week.
“They are very good on defense, and boy they run well,” Gainesville’s Miller said of the Gators. “It could be a low-scoring game, you don’t know, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”