Flowery Branch’s reward for starting the football season 9-0 and finishing second in Region 8-AAAA is a date with one of the most storied football programs in Georgia.
The No. 8 Falcons (9-1) are a No. 2 seed in the Class AAAA state playoffs and, on Friday at Falcon Field, will play host to No. 3-seeded Southwest DeKalb (8-2) out of Region 6.
The Panthers have reached the playoffs 25 of the last 28 years legendary coach Buck Godfrey has led the program, winning the AAAA state title in 1995.
This is Southwest DeKalb’s third-straight season reaching the state playoffs. Georgia High School Football Daily, an email newsletter, said Flowery Branch, by facing the Panthers, drew the toughest first round opponent of any AAAA playoff team.
“We probably did,” Falcons coach Lee Shaw said. “But we’ve been there before as far as having the toughest draw. Football is football. You have to line up and play regardless of who you match up against. Hopefully, we can play our style of football.”
The Falcons were humbled last week in a 21-0 loss to No. 2-ranked Clarke Central in a game that determined the 8-AAAA champion. Though quarterback Austin Brown threw for more than 300 yards, the Gladiators had three consecutive goal line stands inside the 5 yard line to preserve the shutout while holding Flowery Branch to a season low minus-12 rushing yards.
It was the first time the Falcons had been shut out since 2003.
“Maybe we didn’t have as good of a plan on the goal line, or maybe we just didn’t execute as well,” Shaw said.
“But we fixed (the problems) I think, and hopefully we’ll take care of it.”
Flowery Branch will now face a Panthers defense that lines up in a 3-3 stack and pressures the ball in man coverage.
“We’re going to go out there and focus on the little things, the fundamentals, which is what we usually do great,” Brown said. “They’re athletic and can make plays, but if we execute and do what we’re supposed to, we should be able to put up a lot of points.”
The Panthers run their offense out of the Wing T, a formation Flowery Branch is more than familiar with, having faced it against a number of teams this year, as well as last year when it played in 7-AAA.
“Our defense plays well against the Wing T,” said senior defensive Kyle Famiano, who leads the Falcons with 108 tackles. “We struggled against it at the beginning with Apalachee (the Falcons gave up a season-high 35 points and more than 500 rushing yards), but since then we’ve shut down the run and kept (the opposition) to minimal yardage.”
Last week, the Falcons held the Gladiators offense — Clarke Central averaged more than 40 points a game heading into the game — to just 14 points. The Gladiators’ first score was set up by a Flowery Branch fumble on the opening kickoff, which put Clarke Central on the Falcons’ 13. Another Clarke Central touchdown came on an interception returned for a touchdown.
“We got better because we played one of the best teams in the state in our last game,” Shaw said. “It really prepared us for this speed we’re going to see. Southwest DeKalb is just as fast if not faster than Clarke Central. You always want to be honed in and sharpened when the playoffs start.”
The Panthers are looking sharp heading into Fridays’ game. After a close 17-14 loss to Marist in their fourth game of the season, the Panthers are in the midst of a six-game win streak.
Godfrey feels Southwest DeKalb is ready for Flowery Branch.
“We came out of a pretty tough region and we’ve seen what they do as far as passing and running goes,” Godfrey said. “It’s just a matter of us executing and minimizing errors. We’ve got to play good on defense and special teams, and the offense will take care of itself.
“(The Falcons) have good coaching, play good defense, the quarterback throws the ball well and the kicking game is excellent, so we know the challenge set before us.”
Shaw has confidence the Falcons will respond to their first loss of the season.
“They were disappointed,” said Shaw of the Falcons after last week’s game. “There were a lot of tears in that locker room and they were mad, which is a good sign. No one was satisfied. We came back on Sunday and studied film, had a good install practice on Monday and I think we’re ready to play and get back to winning.
Sometimes a loss makes you want to get that taste out of your mouth and get back to your winning ways.”