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Flowery Branch knows the risks of scheduling tough teams outside the region. An 0-2 record to start the season is one of them.
The Falcons saw a 21-21 tie with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter quickly turn into a two-touchdown deficit, as West Forsyth scored twice in the final four minutes of the game to hold off Flowery Branch 35-21 on Friday at Falcon Field.
The loss pushes Flowery Branch to 0-2 for the second consecutive season, back-to-back losses against the same two teams from 2012.
But the kind of opponents the Falcons have endured the past week are hardly pushovers. And for that, coach Chris Griffin is not ready to hit the panic button.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy — we knew our guys were going to be put through a very difficult test,” Griffin said. “We should be 2-0 right now. We played hard and made mistakes, and I felt like we were better than two weeks ago, but obviously not good enough. We’ll be fine.”
Flowery Branch shook off a 21-14 deficit at halftime and tied the game at 21 with 7:51 left to play on a 10-yard touchdown by Jeremiah Goss that reignited the Falcons’ chances. But West Forsyth responded accordingly five minutes later when a 54-yard run by Gabe Pierce set up the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown run by Trevor O’Brien at the 3:54 mark.
Flowery Branch suffered the costliest of its four turnovers of the night on the ensuing drive. Quarterback Jackson McDonald’s pass bounced out of the hands of receiver A’lencio Graham and was pounced on by West Forsyth cornerback Jordan Harris before it hit the ground.
The Wolverines wore the clock down to secure the win, and ended up adding an insurance touchdown with 59 seconds left to play after O’Brien’s 36-yard run lined his team up for a 12-yard score by quarterback Hampton McConnell.
“Flowery Branch is a great team,” West Forsyth coach Frank Hepler said. “I know they’re well-conditioned and they’re well-coached. They showed resilience and tied it up, and we came back and got that score with a nice couple of runs.”
The Wolverines bounced back from a tough 58-28 loss to Class AAAAA’s top-ranked Gainesville last Friday. They outgained Flowery Branch 428-354, balancing it with 288 rushing yards and 140 yards through the air.
“That’s something we’ve been able to do for the last few years,” Hepler said. “We tried to be a balanced offense. Our pass was pretty good — our protection was pretty good and some guys caught the ball that needed to.”
Pierce highlighted West Forsyth’s offense with 108 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries, while O’Brien added 89 yards and a score on 89 carries.
McConnell was 11-of-19 passing for 140 yards, while rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Nearly half of the junior quarterback’s passing yards came on one play in the first quarter, a 63-yard catch by Kyran Ochocki that ended up being the longest play of the night. It set up Pierce’s first touchdown of the night with 27 seconds left in the quarter.
A missed PAT kept Flowery Branch up 7-6 after McDonald’s 4-yard touchdown run on the previous drive. The James Madison commit was 16-of-27 with 116 yards passing, but threw for three interceptions.
He spent the Falcons first full drive of the second quarter handing the ball off to freshman running back Jeremiah Goss, who pounded out runs of 14, 22, 4 and 11 before punching in a 4-yard score midway through the quarter to put his team up 14-6.
Goss finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in front of a home crowd for the first time in his high school career.
“He’s a good running back,” Griffin said. “He works hard, and good things are going to continue to happen because of who he is.”
West Forsyth rattled off two scoring drives to close out the first half and steal the lead away from Flowery Branch. It capped a 77-yard drive with Pierce’s 6-yard touchdown, and tacked on a 2-point conversion from McConnell to Cole Staton to tie the game at 14 apiece.
The Wolverines took advantage of Flowery Branch’s 15-yard personal foul on their next possession to punch deep into Falcon territory, which allowed Pierce to give his team a 21-14 halftime lead on a 25-yard touchdown run.
Flowery Branch opens Region 8-AAAAA play next Friday when it hosts Cedar Shoals. West Forsyth visits Starr’s Mill next Friday for its final region game of the season.