GAINESVILLE — With their backs against the wall on a fourth-and-goal with less than 4 minutes left to play, Sanger defenders pumped their fists in the air as Gainesville’s pass flew out of bounds.
But just as most of their momentous plays ended during Friday night’s District 9-3A opener at Leopard Stadium, the Indians were flagged and the play negated. On the next play, Gainesville quarterback Mason Copeland delivered a 9-yard strike to Demetrius Franklin that essentially handed Sanger a 35-21 defeat.
“All we can do is just get better and rebound from this loss,” Sanger running back Derek Shelby said. “We just didn’t score when we needed to score, and we’re definitely going to bounce back from this. I promise that.”
Shelby finished with 13 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown to go along with one catch for 44 yards, but he said the team’s loss outweighed his own performance.
“It helps with the loss, I guess,” Shelby said sheepishly. “But a loss is a loss.”
Sanger (4-3, 0-1 district) finished with 10 penalties for 85 yards, as Gainesville (7-0, 1-0) had a 380-376 edge in the total yardage.
“When you play a quality football team like that, you’re going to have to play well, and you can’t afford to get penalties,” Sanger coach Chuck Galbreath said. “We had plays like that on both sides of the ball and that certainly hurt us.”
On the opening drive of the game, Sanger committed two personal fouls that helped the Leopards span 66 yards in three minutes capped by Copeland’s 1-yard keeper for a 7-0 lead.
Copeland finished with 12 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown while completing 3 of 10 passes for 59 yards and two scores. Gainesville running back Adam Berryman pounded his way to 207 yards and a score on 23 carries.
Sanger turned the ball over on downs twice earlier in the game before quarterback Brandon Mann laced a 17-yard pass late in the second quarter to wideout Wyatt Broxson to convert on fourth down. Indians running back Derek Shelby scored three plays later on a 3-yard run to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:41 to go in the first half.
After a kick-catch penalty against Sanger on the ensuing kickoff, Gainesville scored just two plays later on a 14-yard run by running back Demarius Farr to take a 14-7 lead into the half.
Although the Indians held a 191-140 advantage in total yardage for the first half, the Leopards pulled away with a 240-185 advantage after the break.
Sanger failed to convert several fourth downs, including once in the red zone late in the final period after a fumbled snap and incomplete pass. Galbreath said his team will focus on improving efficiency.
“We got down there a couple times and just needed to punch it in, but then we got penalties or the fumble,” Galbreath said. “It kept us from getting in, and you have to get in to beat a team like that.”
Gainesville fumbled inside its own territory on its opening drive of the second half, and Sanger fell on it at the 25-yard line. Four plays later, Sanger running back Tre’von Jackson pounded in a 1-yard score to tie the game a 14-14 with 7:49 left in the third quarter. Jackson finished with 29 carries for 144 yards and the score.
But the momentum vanished on the Leopards’ next drive. Gainesville went 58 yards in four plays to reclaim the lead at 21-14.
Gainesville 35, Sanger 21
GN — Mason Copeland 1 run (Hector Sagrero kick)
SN — Derek Shelby 3 run (Dakota Branch kick)
GN — Damarius Farr 14 run (Hector Sagrero kick)
SN — Tre’von Jackson 1 run (Dakota Branch kick)
GN — Adam Berryman 7 run (Hector Sagrero kick)
GN — Jonathan Mendez 20 pass from Mason Copeland (Hector Sagrero kick)
GN — Demetrius Franklin 9 pass from Mason Copeland (Hector Sagrero kick)
SN — Derek Shelby 44 pass from Wyatt Broxson (Dakota Branch kick)
Rushing — GN: Adam Berryman 23-207, Mason Copeland 12-75, Damarius Farr 7-42, Jonathan Mendez 2--3, SN: Tre’von Jackson 29-144, Derek Shelby 13-103, Brandon Mann 10-33, Wyatt Broxson 2-18.
Passing — GN: Mason Copeland 3-10-0-59, SN: Wyatt Broxson 1-4-1-44, Brandon Mann 4-13-2-34.
Receiving — GN: Damarius Farr 1-30, Jonathan Mendez 1-20, Demetrius Franklin 1-9, SN: Derek Shelby 1-44, Wyatt Broxson 3-30, Kyle Link 1-4.