After four games in a new classification and region, Flowery Branch finds itself 4-0 in 8-AAAA and ranked No. 7 in the state, despite significant turnover from last year’s Class AAA state semifinalist team. It was unclear how the Falcons would fare in 2010, and as a result, they had to earn their spot in the top 10 by overwhelming voters after starting the season outside the rankings.
So far, they’ve outscored their opponents 151-50. Of those 50 points allowed, 35 were surrendered in one game against defending 8-AAAA champion Apalachee in Week 4, when the Falcons countered with 52 of their own.
Their first two wins of the season were shutouts. Last week, they reached the half-century mark again with a 50-15 win against Cedar Shoals.
Tonight, the Falcons play host to Rockdale County — a team that also reached the state semifinals last season, but as a member of 8-AAAA. Like Flowery Branch, the Bulldogs lost a significant amount of talent from 2009, but at 2-2, haven’t handled the turnover as well as the Falcons.
The Bulldogs are averaging just 5.75 points a game. Their last win, two weeks ago against Cedar Shoals, came by way of freshman kicker Devon Dawkins’ 27-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game, giving the Bulldogs a 3-0 win.
The Bulldogs defense, which has allowed just 10 points a game, has kept the games close, but has yet to face an offense of Flowery Branch’s capabilities.
On paper, this would appear to be another “W” for the Falcons on their path of 8-AAAA domination. Not so surprisingly, that’s not how Falcons coach Lee Shaw sees tonight’s game.
“They’re a team with an offense waiting to explode,” he said. “It’s very scary and I hope they don’t do it on us. They haven’t been clicking on offense but you can tell they’re close.”
Shaw said he sees the potential in the Bulldogs’ run game, comparing its speed to that of Apalachee’s. Both Apalachee and Rockdale County run out of the wing-T.
“Everybody who touches the ball is a playmaker,” said Shaw, referring to the Bulldogs. “Their speed is very dangerous and presents a problem for us. This team is on the verge or breaking some big plays and we’re not fast in the second or third level, so if they can get into the secondary, we’re in trouble.”
Apalachee and its speed presented plenty of problems for the Falcons, as the Wildcats rushed for more than 550 yards. In that game, the Falcons’ offense bailed the team out by producing a school-record 624 yards of offense, including 359 in the passing game.
Shaw’s not so sure he can count on his offense to bail out the run defense this time.
“Defensively, this is by far the best we’ve faced this season,” he said. “I know we’ve scored points the last two games, but that doesn’t matter. ... Their defense is very athletic and coached up well. They fly around to the ball, make plays and create turnovers.”
Junior running back Jeremy Haley, a first-year starter for the Falcons who leads the area with nine rushing touchdowns and is second with 603 rushing yards, said he’s treating tonight’s game as he would any other.
“It’s going to be a challenge every game in this region,” he said. “You can’t take a day off (during practice week) because a team could show up any day. This region is bigger and faster than AAA, and we’ll have to go out and compete.”
Both Shaw and Haley agree the Falcons offense has the potential to be even more efficient.
“We’re not even close to what we can be,” Shaw said.
Added Haley, “The quarterback (first-year starter Austin Brown) is still learning the offense and everyone is still learning. When we do get to the top, the rest of the region will have to watch out, because we’re coming.”
As for the Falcons’ defense, which has proven to be vulnerable against speed, senior linebacker Sydney Cheeks said the key to tonight’s game is simple.
“We’ve got to stop the run and play good at the line,” said Cheeks, tied for third in the area with 41 tackles. “We’re going to have to play hard.”
Shaw is hoping the speed the Falcons faced in Apalachee and Cedar Shoals has prepared the defense for tonight’s challenge.
“It’s all about keeping speed in a box,” he said.