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No. 6 Flowery Branch faces No. 1 Clarke Central for 8-AAAA title

Falcons playing for first-ever region championship

POSTED: November 5, 2010 5:33 p.m.

Linemen clash during Thursday's practice at Falcon Field in preparation for Friday's 8-AAAA region championship game against Clarke Central.

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The way Flowery Branch’s schedule lended itself, its toughest test is the last game of the regular season — a showdown with No. 1-ranked Clarke Central for the Region 8-AAAA championship.

A season removed from Region 7-AAA, the Falcons rudely introduced themselves to their new region with nine straight wins and outscoring their opponents by an average of nearly 30 points.

Standing in the way of Flowery Branch’s first-ever region title in the school’s nine-year history is the Gladiators, last year’s AAAA state runner-up. Both teams are 9-0 and looking, with a win, to claim the top seed and home field advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:30 p.m. at Falcon Field.

“They’re a great football team,” said Falcons coach Lee Shaw, who has been at Flowery Branch since the school opened in 2002. “They’re very well-coached and have a lot of talent on that team. They deserve every bit of the state ranking they have. I don’t know how many teams in the state could be better than them.

“On film, they look very good.”

The Falcons defense, which has been solid all year — the Falcons have yielded just 11 points a game this season — will have to come up with a plan to stop a balanced attack led by junior tailback Quenshaun Watson and senior QB Martay Mattox. Watson has rushed for 1,116 yards on 141 carries (7.9 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. Mattox has thrown for 19 touchdowns to four interceptions and 1,668 yards on 96-for-161 passing and is also the Gladiators’ second-leading rusher with 492 yards on 52 carries (9.2 yards per carry) and four scores.

Watson has an array of targets when he passes, including Torey Gartrell (30 catches, 467 receiving yards), Carlton Heard (22-463) and Jeremy Hughes (17-321). Six different receivers have caught touchdown passes, led by Heard (7) and Hughes (8).

The Gladiators run their offense out of the I-formation and shotgun.

“They do a good job of getting the ball to their athletes in space and they’re good at finding the defense’s weaknesses,” Shaw said. “You don’t stop a team like that. They’re going to get their points, so we’ve got to keep the ball out of their hands.

“Unfortunately, our time of possession has not been great. We score pretty fast, so hopefully we can find a way to eat the clock more and play field position.”

Slowing down the game and melting clock would go against everything that has made Flowery Branch effective this season. Up to this point, the Falcons have dominated games by keeping the defense on its toes with a no-huddle offense that balances the pass and run games.

But with an athletic Gladiators defense based out of a 4-3 front, the Falcons may try to nickel-and-dime their way down the field to buy time.

“We’ll just do our best to keep the ball in front of them,” Shaw said. “I don’t expect to get too many big plays against a defense with such great team speed. We’ll just try to figure out their weaknesses and exploit them.”

Though the Gladiators will present a tough challenge, Shaw considers the Falcons lucky to have the opportunity to play them because, since they’ve already clinched at least a No. 2 seed, they get to play a championship-caliber team in a playoff-like atmosphere without competing in an elimination game.

“We’re playing one of the best teams in the state for our 10th game,” Shaw said. “We did that last year with Gainesville and they finished state runner-up. Any time you’re playing competition at that level, it’s going to make you better. Clarke Central will make us a better team and a better program by playing them and hopefully we’ll do good things in our playoff run.

“Our main goal is to find a way to beat them.”


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