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Murphy: Flowery Branch at home away from home

POSTED: December 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Playing football at Flowery Branch in the postseason means packing some patience for a long road trip. It means playing in a hostile environment. And it means entering as the lower seeded of two teams.

But playing for the Falcons (10-2) this postseason also means playing for a winning program. Flowery Branch is joined only by Gainesville out of Hall County’s high school football teams still alive in the playoffs. Sure, the No. 3 seeded Falcons would love to play a home playoff game, but it looks like that’s not in the cards for the playoffs this season.

But who’s complaining?

So far in the postseason, Flowery Branch has knocked off co-Region 8-AAA champion and No. 2 seed Stephens County in the first round, and last Friday scored an exciting win over Region 6-AAA champion Ridgeland. The Falcons have battled the odds and are the only No. 3 seed remaining in Class AAA’s playoff pool. To put things into a broader context, the only other No. 3 seeds still playing in the playoffs are Toombs County and Fitzgerald in Class AA, and Southwest DeKalb in AAAA.

This Friday the stakes get even higher for Flowery Branch with a date in the quarterfinals against Class AAA’s second-ranked Baldwin (12-0) in Milledgeville.

Yeah, it’s been a long road for coach Lee Shaw’s Falcons to make it to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2005. This program has logged quite a few miles in the postseason, and the road trips don’t seem to be getting any shorter.

In week one of the postseason, it kicked off with a 100-mile round trip to Toccoa. Last Friday, it was a 260-mile round trip to face Ridgeland, in Rossville, which is just a stone’s throw from Chattanooga, Tenn. By chance, this week’s trip is almost an equal distance down to the former state capital, to play the Region 3-AAA champion, Braves.

By my calculations — and with the assistance of Yahoo! Maps — that adds up to just a hair over 600 round-trip miles for three playoff football games. Logistically speaking, it can’t be easy every Friday to have to pack up that many people for a day trip and not return home until well past a teenager’s curfew.

It also doesn’t seem fair for Flowery Branch — which only missed out on a region title as a result of its loss to Gainesville — to have to travel each and every week to play in the playoffs. Just look at the state playoffs this season, and there are teams with lesser regular season records that got to play in front of the home fans for at least one playoff outing.

And Flowery Branch can already rest assured that its only shot at a state title rests on the road. If the Falcons can make it past Baldwin, a possible state semifinal contest would be on the road at a higher seeded Dunwoody (12-0) or LaGrange (10-2).

The state title game would also be out of the question at Falcon Field, since all five state title games are being hosted at the Georgia Dome this year.

But playing at home might not be the best indicator of success in the playoffs. In Class AAA, Burke County, Carrollton, North Hall, Peach County, St. Pius X, Woodward Academy, Ridgeland, Stephens County and Jackson all entered the playoffs in front of the home fans, but have all since been eliminated from the postseason.

Playing on the road in the playoffs is difficult, no matter how you slice it. But Flowery Branch continues to make it look like its what it does best.

These Falcons may just be the new Road Warriors.



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