Class 6A blog: Gainesville makes some noise in Niblett’s debut

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

Gainesville created a buzz in the offseason when it hired former Hoover, Ala., coach Josh Niblett to lead the Red Elephants back into Class 6A after they spent the past two seasons in the highest classification.

That buzz is a loud roar now.

The Red Elephants jumped out to a 27-7 first-half lead Friday night and went on to a 34-23 victory over perennial power Marist in the teams’ season opener. The victory propelled Gainesville into the top 10, at the No. 7 spot, the first time it has been ranked since 2015. Marist, which moved up to 6A from Class 4A this year, dropped two spots to No. 8 in the rankings.

Marist closed to within 27-23 in the second half, but Naim Cheeks’ 3-yard run with 2:05 remaining provided the final margin. Cheeks rushed for 120 yards, and Baxter Wright was 16-of-18 passing for 250 yards.

“It’s one game, but it’s what we expect to do,” Niblett told AccessWDUN. “I told the kids, get used to this; this is what we expect to do. We’re chasing best; we’re not running from losing. These kids have got to believe in what we’re doing, and they do believe in what we’re doing. I’m proud of them.”

Niblett won seven state championship in Alabama, including six at Hoover.

Gainesville will host Class 7A Mountain View this week, while Marist will travel to Pike Road, Ala.

*Taking down the champs: Two of the eight reigning state champions lost their season openers, and both losses came at the hands of Class 6A schools. No. 2 Lee County defeated two-time defending Class 5A champ Warner Robins 26-10, and No. 5 Woodward Academy picked up a 37-19 victory over Trinity Christian, the 2021 Class A Private champion now playing in 4A. Warner Robins has lost just four regular-season games since the start of the 2019 season, and Lee County has inflicted two of them (27-7 in 2020). Woodward Academy, playing up in class after two season in 5A, was meeting Trinity Christian for the first time.

*Late dramatics: Alpharetta came up with one of the more dramatic victories of the weekend when it rallied to beat Class 5A No. 6 Jefferson 47-46. Alpharetta got the decisive points on a late fourth-down touchdown pass from Ben Guthrie to Ethan Barbour and followed it up with a two-point conversion for the win. Jefferson preseason all-state selection Sammy Brown, who rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns, had given the Dragons a 46-39 lead with 5:58 remaining with a 20-yard touchdown run. Guthrie was 22-of-35 passing for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Garrett Young caught eight passes for 134 yards.

*Early leaders: Lovejoy and Morrow got an early jump on the competition in the 6A playoff races with victories in the only two region games played in the classification during Week 1. Morrow moved into first place in Region 3 with a 50-19 victory over Forest Park on Friday, and Lovejoy joined the Mustangs at the top with a 25-0 win over Mundy’s Mill the next day. Both games went as expected, as the Maxwell Ratings’ projections favored Lovejoy by 18 points and Morrow by six. There are no region games on the Class 6A schedule this week.

*Protecting the border: Georgia teams went 20-6 against out-of-state competition over the weekend, and Region 2-6A had a role in that success. Augusta-area teams Evans, Grovetown and Lakeside-Evans all posted victories against opponents from just across the South Carolina border. Evans defeated North Augusta 16-7; Grovetown beat Midland Valley 43-17 and Lakeside rolled past Aiken 32-0. Evans, which won three of the past five region titles in 3-6A before moving to Region 2 this season, had lost six consecutive games against North Augusta, which defeated both Grovetown and Lakeside last season.