Sep. 22—An old foe will make the short trip up I-35 to Gainesville for the Leopards' district opener Friday.
Gainesville will host rival Sanger at Leopard Stadium for a 7:30 kickoff in the last of three-straight home games.
Gainesville (0-4) once played Sanger regularly as a district foe, but they have been separated for most of the past decade.
Sanger (4-0) won the most recent matchup with the Leopards 56-44 in 2017.
Gainesville coach Neil Searcy said the Sanger rivalry is newer, but it is good to have them back on the schedule.
"Whenever I was in high school, our biggest rivalry was McKinney," Searcy said. "Now, you ask the kids the biggest rivalry, it's Sanger. So, it's a big game for us and for our kids... It's good to have them back on the schedule, and it's good to develop those rivalry games so kids can get fired up and get ready to play."
The Leopards and Indians played annually as district foes through 2013. Gainesville won what became the last game of the annual series 35-21. The following year, both teams moved from Class 3A to Class 4A Division I but were placed in different districts.
After two years apart, they reunited in 2016 for two years. Sanger won both matchups before the teams were again split in 2018. The Indians dropped to 4A Division II in 2020, with Gainesville not following suit until this year.
Searcy said he is still learning how much this rivalry means nowadays, but this is a big game regardless.
"Rivalry, district game, this is a pretty big game for us no matter how you slice it or how you look at it," Searcy said. "It's our first district ball game. This is the biggest game of the year for us if we want to get off to a good start in our district play."
Sanger features 21 seniors on an experienced squad, including all its top offensive playmakers. Quarterback Logan Lewis averages 260 passing yards per game and has thrown eight touchdowns. His two main targets are Ben Turnbow and Chandler Bowland with three touchdown receptions each. Steven Bush leads the rushing attack with 100.8 yards per game and eight touchdowns.
Searcy said that much experience is tough to play against, but the Leopards have played tough opponents so far and won't be caught off guard.
"You're looking at kids that have probably played at least two, and some three, years of varsity," Searcy said. "That presents a problem in that those kids have been there before, and my team is fairly young. I don't have a bunch of seniors. It'll present its issues for us when those kids have some experience on Friday night, but I think my kids are going to rise to the challenge."