GAUTIER — The Gautier Gators didn’t let a little rain Monday afternoon affect their preparation for Friday night’s second-round Class 5A South State semifinal-round playoff game against Florence on the road.
The Gators looked sharp as they ran through warmup drills under the direction of their assistant coaches while head coach Marc High observed from a distance.
“I think we are playing okay,” High said as he watched his team going through drills in the sprinkling rain. “We always have things we can get better at. We are playing well and playing pretty good. It ought to be a good one.”
The Gators opened the playoffs last Friday with a 50-18 victory over Natchez, which kept the game close until the second half when Gautier scored 21 unanswered points.
The Gators sliced their way all the way to the Class 6A South State championship game last season before falling to eventual state champion Picayune. It marked the first-ever appearance in a south state title tilt in program history for Gautier.
The win on Friday over Natchez. placed GHS into the second round of the state playoffs for the second consecutive season for the first time in 23 years, since achieving the same feat in back-to-back years in 1999 and 2000.
Florence comes in with an 8-4 record. High said he’s watched film on the Gators’ opponent and he expects to see a disciplined team.
“They are a power-running team,” High said. “They will try to eat up a lot of clock. I think their opponents are averaging 35-40 plays a game.”
He said Florence likes, “To hold the clock, kick a lot of onside kicks, fake a lot of punts. Do a lot of things to try and keep time of possession in their hands.”
High said he’s seen a lot of improvement in his team since the beginning of the season. “We replaced a lot of kids from last year. We had to get these kids used to what our expectations are.”
The expectations the coaches preach are “Grades. Attitude. Toughness and Effort.”
“That’s what we preach. We have it on our shirts,” High said.
In the victory over Natchez, the Gators used special teams to set up 3 scores. They had a blocked punt, recovered a muffed punt, and forced a fumble.
“We really had some good special teams plays,” High said. “Our defense played outstanding. Our offense took till the second half to get rolling.”
The last time Gautier made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons was back in 1999-2000.
The Gator’s defense is led by linebacker Fredrick Nicholson and tackle Angel McGee. Nichols has 107 tackles, 6 tackles for losses, 1 sack, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries and 1 blocked punt. McGee has 83 tackles, 7 tackles for losses, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and one blocked field goal.
The Gators have used two quarterbacks this season. In 11 games Kelvin Beavers had completed 80 of 127 passes (62.9%) for 818 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Trey Irving has played 7 games and has completed 95 of 163 passes (58.2%) for 1,044 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions.
Leading the Gators on the ground are Solomon Baggett and Irving. Baggett has carried 131 times for 1,322 yards (10.09 per carry) and 13 TDs. His longest run is a 76-yarder. Irving has 41 carries for 383 yards and 4 scores with a longest run of 30 yards. Kelvin Beavers is next with 41 attempts for 285 yards and a TD. His longest run is 47 yards.
Top receivers for the Gators are Kainen Rush (48 catches, 546 yards, 4 TDs), Beavers (29 for 447, 4 TDs), LJ Bennett (32 for 364, 4 TDs), and Caylen. Edwards (34 for 261, 4 TDs).
The Gators’ offense has been balanced this season with 2,120 yards in the air and 1,867 on the ground. They have 24 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing.