BETHLEHEM — For the first time this season, the Flowery Branch football team came down to earth and played a closely-matched contest with its opponent.
Even if the scoreboard says differently.
The Falcons (3-0, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA) stayed unbeaten on the season with a 42-20 win over Apalachee on Friday at R. Harold Harrison Sports Complex in Bethlehem.
They found themselves going back-and-forth with the Wildcats in an offensive-minded contest that featured 872 total yards between the two teams.
Flowery Branch moved up the field with ease as usual, as its 443 yards came just short of the 500 mark it had hit in its previous two games this season.
But Apalachee (0-2, 0-2 Region 8-AAAA) wasn’t far behind, a rarity thus far in the season for the fourth-ranked Falcons. The Wildcats piled up 429 of their own yards to keep Flowery Branch’s starters on the field for the entire game, and often on their heels.
“I challenged these guys,” Falcons head coach Lee Shaw said. “I wanted to find out the identity of this team — whether we were front-runners or finishers, and they proved tonight they’re finishers.”
But if there was any front-runner on the field, it was Flowery Branch quarterback Kanler Coker.
The Falcons’ senior signal caller participated in four of his team’s six touchdowns on the night.
With feature wideout C.J. Curry out of the game for a penalty he took during last Friday’s win over Winder-Barrow, Coker improvised in the absence of his favorite target. He rushed for three touchdowns and finished the game with 60 yards on 12 carries.
“Kanler really used his legs tonight,” Shaw said. “What C.J. brought us in yardage, Kanler took over with that.”
Coker kept the pestering Apalachee offense from staging any chance of a second-half comeback, scoring two runs late in the third quarter that held Flowery Branch pull away from a 21-14 advantage midway through the quarter.
In similar fashion to Coker, Wildcat quarterback Clint Ashe put Apalachee within 15 halfway through the fourth quarter with an 80-yard to make the score 35-20 after a missed PAT.
But Coker made sure he wasn’t to be outdone, putting the finishing touches on the Falcons’ third straight win with his third touchdown of the night five minutes later.
His lone touchdown pass of the night came in the second quarter, when he evaded three Apalachee defenders in the backfield to find an open Casey Osborne, who took the pass 72 yards for a touchdown.
Osborne finished the game with a season-high 113 yards on five catches.
“That’s the nature of this offense,” Shaw said. “We have a lot weapons.”
The play put Flowery Branch up 14-0 early in the second quarter after a scoreless first. It began to appear that the Falcons were well on their way to another lopsided victory, but Ashe brought the Wildcats within a touchdown when Ashe found receiver Jermaine Smith for a 38-yard score.
Flowery Branch was challenged for what seemed like the first time all season, and they handled the situation with ease.
Jeremy Haley capped off the ensuing drive with a 25-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 21-7 lead. It was his second score of the night after scoring the first touchdown of the game 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Haley finished the game with 143 yards on 15 carries, passing the century mark for the third time this season.
Apalachee fought back on the next drive, grinding down the clock with consistent running pressure. They pulled within the Flowery Branch 28-yard line as first-half time ticked away, but the Falcons silenced their touchdown chances when Quinton Mayfield pulled down an interception in his own end zone.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times,” Apalachee head coach Shane Davis said. “I thought we had a step on them right in the half. We have a very good chance to go in 21-14 at the half instead of 21-7. But hats off to them.”
The Wildcats would get a second chance to find their second touchdown on the first drive of the second half, and they did when Stanley Williams slipped a pack of Flowery Branch defenders for a 27-yard touchdown run.
Williams, a University of Georgia verbal commitment, finished the game with 76 yards on 14 carries. Ashe led Apalachee offensively, rushing for 108 yards while passing for 131.
Flowery Branch looks to go 4-0 to start the season when it plays host to Cedar Shoals next Friday. The Wildcats are still looking for their first win, and will try to get at Salem next Friday.