ATHENS — Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin admits his team seems to have a problem when it comes to playing well in the first half.
It was no different Friday night, as Flowery Branch trailed the hosts from Clarke Central 6-3 headed into the locker room at halftime. That’s when Griffin and the Falcons’ coaching staff had to make some what he called “little corrections.”
The Falcons’ took their head coach’s words to heart, outscoring the Gladiators 21-7 after halftime to pick up a 24-13 victory.
The Falcons improved to 7-2 overall and 7-0 in Region 7-AAAAA. With the victory, they clinched a first-round home playoff game and will play Gainesville for the region title in two weeks, if the Red Elephants beat Loganville this Friday.
“You know, ‘talk mean’ to them a little bit,” Griffin said. “Our guys are mature and they know how to handle a little adversity. So it’s as simple as just challenging them to play ball the way they know how to play. “
The star of the second half was Falcons sophomore running back Justin Curry, who scored the first touchdown on the initial possession of the third quarter.
Curry took a handoff up the middle from Clarke Central’s 25-yard line before bouncing outside, then broke multiple tackles before reaching the end zone. Kicker Will Filson made the point-after attempt and the Falcons had their first lead, 10-6, with 6:22 to play in the third quarter.
The Gladiators responded on the ensuing possession. After a kickoff return helped them start at the Falcons’ 49-yard line, they only took six plays to score, with quarterback Cameron Johnson finding fullback Baylor Ward in the end zone on a 4-yard pass play for a 13-10 lead with 3:40 to go in the third period.
That was to be the Gladiators’ final lead, however, as the Falcons scored 14 unanswered points.
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Falcons pass on a field goal and decided to go for the touchdown. The gamble paid off when Curry blasted up the middle for his second touchdown and a 17-13 lead following Filson’s PAT.
The last score was courtesy of Jamaad Stephens. The senior provided the exclamation point for the Falcons’ win, hauling in a 10-yard pass from quarterback Jackson McDonald in the back of the end zone with 6:23 remaining.
The first score of the game came on a 37-yard field goal by the Gladiators’ Matthew Ward at the 10:27 mark of the first period. Ward’s field goal came after Flowery Branch fumbled on the opening kickoff, with the Gladiators recovering the ball at the Falcons’ 22-yard line.
Just over eight minutes later, Ward banged in another field goal from 24 yards out to extend the Gladiators’ lead to 6-0.
The Falcons got their first points with 11:10 remaining in the second quarter when Filson connected from 34 yards, cutting the Gladiators’ advantage to 6-3.
Griffin said his team’s first half struggles didn’t have as much to do with what the Falcons did wrong as what the Gladiators did right. But Flowery Branch’s saving grace was its defense.
“Our defense played outstanding,” he said. “Hats off to them. I don’t think that Clarke had any success in the first half and my guys played really well in the second half, too. I’m really proud of my defense.”