It was a record-setting and drought-ending night for Deshaun Watson and the Gainesville Red Elephants.
The junior quarterback threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores as Gainesville overwhelmed Ware County 49-13 in the Class AAAAA championship game on Friday at the Georgia Dome to claim the first state title in school history. Gainesville (12-3), one of the state’s all-time winningest programs, was making its seventh appearance in the final, the most of any team that had never won a title.
And as has been the case so often in his three years as a starter, it was Watson who made it all go. He came into the game needing 17 yards to break the state record for career passing yardage, and he got them on his third attempt with a 10-yard pass to Tray Harrison. It was part of an 8-for-8 effort on the Red Elephants’ opening drive that was capped by a 17-yard pass to Caleb Hayman for a 7-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
For the game, Watson was 27-of-36 passing for 317 yards and had 13 carries for 85 yards rushing, increasing his season totals to 1,441 yards rushing and 4,024 passing. He became the third quarterback in state history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season – behind Hutson Mason (4,560 for Lassiter in 2009) and Taylor Heinicke (4,218 for Collins Hill in 2010) – and the second to throw 50 TD passes in a season, trailing only Mason with 54 in 2009. He broke the record for career touchdown passes in the semifinals last week and will enter his senior season with 108 touchdowns and 9,363 yards.
A 4-yard run by Watson, a 38-yard fumble return by Fred Payne and a 5-yard pass to Rodney Lackey made it 28-0 with 2:33 to play in the first half. It was all but over at that point.
Payne also set up a third-quarter touchdown with a 69-yard interception return to the Ware County 2.
Xavier Tobler, the Region 3-AAAAA co-player of the year, scored both touchdowns for Ware County (13-2) on 2-yard runs.
Ware County had success on offense early and led in total yards 237-236 at halftime. Tobler and quarterback Jammar Johnson each rushed for more than 50 yards and Johnson was 11-of-13 passing for 105 yards in the first two quarters. But moving the ball against Gainesville wasn’t the problem. Stopping Gainesville was.
By the time Ware County scored its first points, on a 2-yard run by Tobler in the final minute of the first half, the Gators had given up 28 points. It was the most points allowed by the Gators all season and only the third time had scored more than 17 against them.
Ware County – 0-7-0-6 – 13
Gainesville – 14-14-14-7– 49
G – Caleb Hayman 17 pass from Deshaun Watson (Gage Turner kick)
G – Watson 4 run (Turner kick)
G – Fred Payne 38 fumble return (Turner kick)
G – Rodney Lackey 5 pass from Watson (Turner kick)
W – Xavier Tobler 2 run (Seth Starling kick)
G – Watson 1 run (Turner kick)
G – Michael Byrd 3 run (Turner kick)
G – Hayman 20 pass from Watson (Turner kick)
W – Tobler 2 run (kick failed)