GAINESVILLE — In what many considered a must-win game for both teams, Sanger took care of business easily on the road against Gainesville, 56-44, on Friday night.
Sanger (4-5, 2-2 District 4-4A Division I) allowed 36 points in the fourth quarter, but a big first half allowed it to hang on against the Leopards (3-6, 1-3).
The Indians were led by a potent offense that racked up 356 yards on the ground to go with 130 through the air.. Quarterback C.J. Jackson finished with 115 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
"That was the best first half we played all year," Sanger coach Cole Ford said. "We tried to rest some kids in the second half, and it is what it is. We jumped out and got out to a great start, which is something we've been working on in the past weeks."
Sanger came out with its foot on the gas and never let up throughout the first half. Jackson scored on the third play from scrimmage, but a holding call pulled it back. What appeared to be a sputter for the Indians was just a warm-up.
The Indian defense recovered a fumble on the following drive at the Gainesville 5-yard line. Running back Gavin Brown punched in two plays later to make it 7-0 with about five minutes to play in the quarter. On the next possession, Baron Bailey came up with a pick-six for the Indians to extend their lead.
The scoring was just beginning from there — for both teams.
The Indians recovered the ensuing onside kick. and Logan Walker's only pass of the half linked up with Brown for a 52-yard touchdown down the sidelines to make it 21-0 only 11 seconds after the pick-six. Jackson then took matters into his own hands, going 85 yards for his first rushing touchdown of the half.
Jackson rounded out the half with a rushing touchdown from 8 yards out to put Sanger up 35-0 with seconds to play in the first half. Jackson completed five of his seven passed for 78 yards to go with his 115 rushing yards and two scores in the opening half.
The Indians picked up where they left off in the second half. Dameon Moser punched in a 21-yard run with 7:41 to play in the third to put Sanger up 42-0.
But the Leopards would not go down without a fight.
A few plays after a holding penalty wiped out a Gainseville touchdown, it got on the board by way of Josh Kemp finding Jalen McGee for a 13-yard touchdown pass. The two-point try was good, making it 42-8.
The Leopards forced a Sanger fumble and converted off the turnover with 11:34 left in the game to draw even closer, but Sanger answered with a Cole Mathes 17-yard touchdown run to push the score to 49-14 just a minute later.
Calion Baker had another touchdown for the Leopards late. He scored with 8:50 left in the game on a 5-yard run to make the score. The teams continued to trade touchdowns as Sanger scored only 10 seconds later as Mathes ran for a 49-yard score to make it 56-20.
The Leopards had an answer yet again as Calion Baker rushed 27-yards for the touchdown. The two-point try was good to push the score to 56-28. Baker followed that up with a 1-yard score with just over six minutes to play to pull the Leopards within 20.
Baker then streaked off a 34-yard touchdown run to cap the Leopards' 36-point fourth quarter that made things interesting, but it wasn't enough.
Sanger now faces another vital district game when it hosts Decatur at 7 p.m. Friday.
"This game will more than likely be for seeding," Ford said. "I think we're both in, but I'll have to look at the math. We want to make sure we can get the best opponent we can."
Sanger 56, Gainesville 44
SN -- 23 penalty offense
SN -- Gavin Brown 3 run (Juan Martinez kick)
SN -- Baron Bailey 38 interception return (Juan Martinez kick)
SN -- Gavin Brown 52 pass from Logan Walker (Juan Martinez kick)
SN -- CJ Jackson 85 run (Juan Martinez kick)
SN -- CJ Jackson 8 run (Juan Martinez kick)
SN -- Dameon Moser 21 run (Juan Martinez kick)
GN -- Jalen McGee 13 pass from Josh Kemp (Josh Kemp run)
GN -- Brandon Baker 3 run
SN -- Cole Mathes 17 run (Juan Martinez kick)
GN -- Calion Baker 5 run
SN -- Cole Mathes 49 run (Juan Martinez kick)
GN -- Calion Baker 27 run (Josh Kemp run)
GN -- Calion Baker 1 run (Jacoby McBath run)
GN -- Brandon Baker 34 run (Calion Baker pass from Josh Kemp)
Rushing -- GN: Calion Baker 22-198, Brandon Baker 15-114, Josh Kemp 7-17, Jacoby McBath 3-11, Drayton Franklin 3--13, SN: CJ Jackson 6-115, Cole Mathes 13-103, Dameon Moser 6-74, Gavin Brown 10-56, Logan Walker 2-8.
Passing -- GN: Josh Kemp 7-13-0-92, Drayton Franklin 7-17-1-81, Calion Baker 2-4-0-61, SN: CJ Jackson 5-7-0-78, Logan Walker 1-1-0-52.
Receiving -- GN: Josh Kemp 2-81, Izaiah Baker 2-58, Calion Baker 6-42, Jalen McGee 3-18, Luis Huerta 1-16, Tyler Edington 1-10, Brandon Baker 1-9, SN: Gavin Brown 1-52, Hank Lemons 1-34, Dillon Wilkerson 1-18, Dameon Moser 2-14, Jacob McDaniel 1-12.