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Falcon offense grounded by Gladiators, 21-0
Clarke Central wins region showdown, hands Branch first shoutout since 03
Clarke Central's Ty Simmons attempts to take down Flowery Branch's Casey Osborne during Friday's game at Falcon Field. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

FLOWERY BRANCH — For the first time this season, Flowery Branch's high octane offense was met with a defense that was too much to overcome.

Clarke Central denied the Falcons on first-and-goal three consecutive drives in the second half on their way to a 21-0 win Friday at Falcon Field.

It was the first time Flowery Branch has been shut out since 2003, when Johnson beat the Falcons 43-0 in the program's second year.

With the win, Gladiators (10-0) claimed the Region 8-AAAA championship and a No. 1 seed in the Class AAAA state playoffs, which begin next week. They'll face Mays next Friday at Billy Henderson Stadium in Athens.

The Falcons (9-1) plays host to Southwest DeKalb next Friday in Flowery Branch.

The Gladiators' first goal-line stand ended with a 99-yard interception return by Herb Evans to put Clarke Central ahead 21-0 with 1:27 remaining in the third period.

"I just watched the quarterback, read the play and I got the interception," said Evans, a senior defensive back, of his first career interception return for a touchdown. "And then I saw the opening and I just took it."

Despite constant pressure from the Gladiators defense, the Falcons were effective moving the ball downfield. Quarterback Austin Brown threw for 301 yards on 22-for-33 passing, but once the Falcons got inside Clarke Central's 5, the Gladiators defense transformed into a brick wall.

After Evans' pick, they stopped the Falcons on fourth-and-1, then fourth-and-3.

"They're just a good team with a lot of speed all around, and good size as well," Brown said. "And that makes for a deadly combination."

Gladiators linebacker Jordan Pierce aided in several key stops at the goal line and added two sacks for the game.

"They've got a great offense and credit to them for getting down to the goal line," Jordan Pierce said. "But our defense pulled it out. We just wanted to dominate them every play."

Clarke Central's final goal line stand came with 6:23 remaining. The Gladiators' running game, led by junior Quenshaun Watson, took over and recorded five first downs to run out the rest of the clock.

Watson, who gave the Gladiators a 14-0 lead with a 68-yard run on the opening possession of the second half, finished the game with 157 yards on 22 carries.

"At first, we had problems with the run," said Watson," but at the half, coach (Leroy Ryals) told us to keep mashing the gas and mashing the gas and we did."

The Falcons got off to a bad start, fumbling the game's opening kickoff, giving Clarke Central the ball on the Flowery Branch 13. Three plays later, Marquez Williams scored on a 3-yard run to give Clarke a 7-0 lead that would hold through halftime.

"I felt like we'd respond from that," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said.

But the Falcons were slow to get into an offensive rhythm, mainly because of Clarke Central's defensive speed. It pressured Brown nearly every play and completely shut down the run game.

Jeremy Haley, the area's leading rusher with 1,264 yards and 17 touchdowns heading into Friday's game, was limited to 4 yards on nine carries. Receiver Brody Thomas led the Falcons with 7 yards on four carries. As a team, Flowery Branch rushed for minus-12 yards.

"This team exploited some weaknesses of ours," Shaw said. "We've got another week to attack it. We're in the same situation we were last year (the Falcons lost a Week 11 match to Gainesville for the 7-AAA title) and this group will respond."

Shaw said it was the Falcons' defense, which held the Gladiators — Clarke Central averaged more than 40 points heading into the game — to its lowest scoring output of the season, kept the game close.

"I tell you, our defense played outstanding," he said. "We got better on that side of the ball."

Watson said the Gladiators, who reached the AAAA state championship game last year, are on a mission to return.

"We goin' to the Dome," he said. "That's the goal we made in the summer time, so that's where we're goin'."


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