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Defense lifts Falcons to 44-7 win at Winder
Flowery Branch wins fifth straight, stays unbeaten in region
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Falcons 44, Bulldoggs 7

Difference maker: Jackson McDonald threw for 170 yards on 7 completions in 10 passes, with an average of 28.3 yards per completion.

Stat that matters: McDonald scored five all-purpose touchdowns, three through the air and two on the ground. The Flowery Branch defense recorded five turnovers on the night — three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Turning point: The Falcons had just gone up 22-0 when Hunter Cooper was picked off in the end zone early in the second quarter.

Who’s next: Flowery Branch travels to Conyers next week to play Heritage; Winder-Barrow gets Loganville at home next Friday night.

WINDER — The Flowery Branch Falcons finished the Barrow County sweep Friday night to remain unbeaten in the region and stay in a tie with Gainesville for the first position in Region 8-AAAAA.

Flowery Branch (5-2, 5-0 Region 8-AAAAA) defeated the Winder-Barrow Bulldoggs (1-5, 0-4 Region 8-AAAAA) 44-7, just a week after defeating Apalachee, 42-20.

“I’m glad we won, and I’ll take a win any way we can get it,” Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said.

Flowery Branch quarterback Jackson McDonald connected on 7 of 10 pass attempts for 170 yards and three touchdowns. One of those passes also came on a two-point conversion just after a touchdown completion for 52 yards. Both catches were made by Flowery Branch senior wide receiver Davante King.

McDonald scored five all-purpose touchdowns, adding two scores on the ground, including a 4-yard keeper and a 36-yard run up the middle. On the latter score, he sidestepped two Winder-Barrow defenders just outside the end zone with 9:41 left in the third quarter to put his team up 44-0.

McDonald rested from that score until the end of the game, finishing an exceptional night for the Flowery Branch offense.

“It’s no different, regardless of what game we play,” Griffin said. “We expect the same things out of him: run the offense and do what we do.

“This game is no different from any other. He understands what we want and he does a great job of running the offense. He’s a phenomenal leader.”

The Bulldogg offense, on the other hand, struggled to find the breaks they needed.

After the Falcons drove 57 yards in just three plays, taking off 1:10 to start the game, Winder-Barrow stopped the first Flowery Branch two-point conversion. The touchdown was an 18-yard completion to A’lencio Graham on first down from the 18.

McDonald’s first rushing touchdown of the night gave the Falcons a 14-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Flowery Branch kickoff went out of bounds giving Winder-Barrow decent field position at the 35-yard line, but a Chandon Sullivan 3-yard gain was all the offense the Bulldoggs would have on that drive.

Hunter Cooper’s first interception of the night came on the next pass when Flowery Branch picked him off at midfield and returned the ball to the 41-yard line.

After a couple troublesome Flowery Branch penalties, Jackson McDonald connected with Davante King for the 52-yard touchdown pass and a completed two-point conversion for a 22-0 lead.

Winder-Barrow’s offense drove down to the Flowery Branch red zone primarily on two long Cooper passes to Bradyn Randall and then Sullivan, putting the Doggs in the red zone for the first time all night.

Unfortunately, Cooper’s next pass missed the target and found it’s way to the Flowery Branch defense for an interception and a touchback.

“We hang our hat on defense; that’s what we’ve always believed that if we’re going to win the championships then we’ve got to play good defense,” Griffin said.

“Our guys understand what we want, and they had a great week of practice. They understood what Winder was going to do, and I’m proud of how they responded. What else can you ask?”

The Flowery Branch defense shut out the Bulldoggs, the lone Winder touchdown coming off of a special teams miscue when a Falcon drive fell apart on their own 9-yard line.

Winder-Barrow broke through the line and blocked the punt, which Solomon Sims recovered in the end zone for the only Bulldogg score of the night at the start of the fourth quarter.

“It was definitely a breakdown in protection, that’s something we work on every day,” Griffin said. “That’s something we’re going to look at and evaluate going ahead.”

The Flowery Branch defense picked off Cooper three times, and twice in the red zone. They added two fumble recoveries, one by Kevin Clark in the second quarter that set up a first-and-goal for the Falcons before a Jeremiah Goss 2-yard touchdown. The other was a Dezmond Osborne recovery that put the ball back in Flowery Branch’s hands for the last possession of the game with 2:50 left to play.

“This week is no different than any other week,” Griffin said. “We expect our guys to execute, play hard regardless of the score and the opponent.

“None of that stuff matters. We have expectations for our guys, and I felt like tonight we did that for the most part.”

Flowery Branch knows the road goes on a bit further, though, as it looks ahead to the heart of the region schedule.
Flowery Branch will finish the season against the three other playoff teams from 2012, starting with a road game at Heritage next Friday before playing Clarke Central at home and finishing up at Gainesville on Nov. 8.

“Obviously, there are some things we still have to work on if we’re going to win the big one,” Griffin said.