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December 6, 2012
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The Hurricanes (13-0), who are seeking their first state championship game appearance since defeating Titusville for the 3A state title in 1980, are led by running backs Ralph Webb and Tony James.
Last week, Webb, a senior, rushed for a season-high 213 yards and three touchdowns, while James, a junior, had 128 yards on the ground. The pair, known as 'lightning and thunder,' has combined for 2,678 yards and 30 TDs this season.
Plus, senior quarterback Marquis Robins-Cato (1,907 yards, 26 TDs) has kept defenses honest with his ability to spread the ball around to Florida commit Chris Thompson (18.9 yards per reception, 6 TDs), Kenric Young (29 catches, 487 yards, 7 TDs) and leading receiver Case Harrison (46 catches, 742 yards, 7 TDs).
But now GHS must go on the road for the first time in the postseason to face a Navarre team that upset Lake City Columbia, 28-21, to advance to their first state semifinal in the school's brief history.
Only a one-point loss at Pensacola in Week #2 separates Navarre and first-year coach Jay Walls from an unbeaten season.
Last week, the Raiders (12-1) jumped out to a 21-0 lead and kept the Tigers out of the end zone following Columbia's lone touchdown on the first play of the second half.
The bend-but-don't-break defense, which intercepted a pass with 26 seconds to play to preserve the victory, has helped Navarre get to this point, but there are players to watch on offense too.
ANALYSIS: The Raiders have flown under the radar for most of the season, which is just how coach Walls likes it. The former Suwannee Bulldog head man is familiar with Gainesville and will attack quickly to try and set the pace.
Gainesville has been seriously tested twice this season, with close games against Columbia (17-14) and Madison County (14-9). The Purple Hurricanes' offense seems to be firing on all cylinders and defensively, to have held the Armwood Hawks out of the end zone on two point-blank chances sent a confidence boost down the line.
While folks talk about Gainesville's offense, it's the defense that will make the difference in this game. LB's Keith Kelsey Jr. and Keon Jenkins will be tested with Leggett and Warren but games against Derrick Henry (Yulee) and Deonshay Wells (Madison County) have given the 'Canes a good look at multiple offensive threats.
Navarre has also faced some quality offensive attacks - including Milton wide receiver Isaiah Jones and Dejon Funderburk. Watch for LB Elijah Apple and ATH Nick Benton along with QB Andy Reives to have an impact.
"I am the master of my fate" - so said William Earnest Hemley. For this game - the master will be team dressed in purple.
PREDICTION: Gainesville 21 Navarre 17
--Follow on twitter @ridaught & online at www.theprepzone.com