Falcons 37, Gladiators 7
Difference maker: Jeremiah Goss, a freshman, had two rushing touchdowns for Flowery Branch, but helped move several Falcon drives down the field and keep momentum moving forward. Goss finished the night with 113 yards rushing with three touchdowns.
Stat that matters: Flowery Branch’s defense forced three turnover on downs, one fumble and an interception, limiting the Gladiators to just 219 yards of total offense..
Turning point: Trailing 15-7, Clarke Central had a 31-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter get called back for illegal touching on the wide receiver. The Gladiators turned the ball over on downs a few plays later. Flowery Branch scored 14 unanswered points in the quarter, taking advantage of a Gladiator fumble on their next drive.
Who’s next: Flowery Branch visits fourth-ranked Gainesville on Nov. 8; Clarke Central visits Winder-Barrow next Friday.
Flowery Branch won’t have to go very far to play its final regular season game in a few weeks. The Falcons also won’t have to go very far for their first-round playoff game, either.
Flowery Branch (7-2, 7-0 Region 8-AAAAA) clinched a first-round home playoff game on Friday night, downing the Clarke Central Gladiators 37-7 at Falcon Field.
“I can’t even explain it,” Flowery Branch running back Jeremiah Goss said. “I’m ecstatic. We are just going to keep it going.”
The Falcons will visit fourth-ranked Gainesville on Nov. 8 in a game that will decide the Region 8 championship for a second consecutive season. Like Flowery Branch, Gainesville clinched a home playoff game with the Falcons’ win over the Gladiators.
“Gainesville, again, is a good football team,” Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said. “We’ve got an extra week to rest up. ...We need a break, a chance to kind of slow down and physically heal up.
“It is going to be a big game, but it is why you play the game — to play on big stages and in front of big crowds.”
With Flowery Branch leading 15-7 early in the third quarter, Clarke Central — which can clinch a playoff berth next Friday with a visit to Winder-Barrow — had a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cameron Johnson to Jamonte Smith get called back due to an illegal touching penalty called against Smith, who ran out of bounds before making the catch.
A few plays later, Clarke Central (5-3, 5-2) turned the ball over on downs and Flowery Branch made the Gladiators pay for their costly mistake. The Falcons used a 31-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jackson McDonald to Cameron Davis to grab a 22-7 lead.
Less than two minutes later, the Falcons were back in the end zone, taking advantage of a Clarke Central fumble deep in Falcon territory. Goss capped off the quick drive, dashing into the end zone for a 1-yard score and finishing off the quick 14-point swing for the Falcons.
“It was good that we got that ball back and we didn’t lose hope,” Goss said. “It would be one thing if we just gave up, but we kept on fighting.”
Flowery Branch added a safety in the fourth quarter, when linebacker Zack Smith tackled Clarke Central running back Jaque Daniels (11 rushes, 72 yards) in the end zone, making the score 31-7.
Off the safety punt, the Falcons drove downfield and added another touchdown, a 1-yard run by Goss that made the score 37-7.
“I think I told (the media) this week, it was going to come down to who made mistakes and who could capitalize on those mistakes,” Griffin said. “When we made a mistake, whether it be our offense covered the defense or vice versa, where as when they made mistakes we made them pay. A good football team has to be able to do that.”
Flowery Branch overcame a sluggish first quarter from McDonald, who was intercepted twice on just four passes to start the night, and a turnover on downs inside Clarke Central territory.
In between his interceptions, McDonald engineered the game’s first touchdown drive, coming midway through the opening quarter, when Goss broke into the end zone for a 2-yard run.
Clarke managed to turn McDonald’s second interception of the opening quarter into a touchdown. The Gladiators used 11 plays to travel 91 yards to even the game at 7-7, using a 13-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to DeAnthony Vereen early in the second quarter.
“In the first half, it was a little bit shaky,” Griffin said. “Our guys showed up and played ball. I’m proud of them.”
After both teams turned the ball over on their ensuing possessions, McDonald put together the Falcons’ best drive of the first half, delivering a dagger in the hearts of the Gladiators inside the closing minute of the first half.
McDonald connected with his favorite target, Jemon Randolph (4 catches, 84 yards), for a 32-yard touchdown pass with just 11.5 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The Falcons converted the two-point conversion to make the score 15-7.
Flowery Branch’s defense was aggressive all night, forcing three turnovers on downs, a third-quarter fumble, a safety and an interception. The Falcons limited Clarke Central to 219 total yards of offense.
“Our defense is playing very, very good,” Griffin said. “We gave up some yards tonight, but again, against a good team, you’re going to give up some yards. It is one of those things where you bend but don’t break. But our guys are continuing to understand what we are asking them to do.”
Flowery Branch finished with 385 yards, led by Goss’ 113 yards rushing on 22 carries and three touchdowns.
McDonald finished the night 12-of-24 for 195 yards passing with two touchdowns. McDonald also had 50 yards rushing.