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Falcons won't back down, win playoff opener, 28-6
Flowery Branch stops Southwest DeKalb to win Class AAAA opener, faces Kell next on road
Southwest DeKalb quarterback Andre Wilson gets sacked by Flowery Branch's Scott Tupper, left, and LeDarrius McLaurin, back, during the first half of Friday night's Region 8-AAAA playoff game at The Branch.

FLOWERY BRANCH — After suffering its first loss of the season last week, Flowery Branch is now back on track.

The No. 8-ranked Falcons advanced to the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs after handling Southwest DeKalb 28-6 on Friday night at Falcon Field. The Falcons (10-1), the No. 2 seed from Region 8, toppled Region 6's No. 3-seed Panthers (8-3) with the same recipe that allowed them to open the season on a nine-game win streak: smothering defense and a relentless offense.

The Falcons will travel to Marietta to play undefeated Kell, the No. 1 seed from Region 5. The Longhorns defeated Region 7's No. 4 seed South Forsyth 49-7 to improve to 12-0.

A week after the Falcons rushed for minus-12 yards in a 21-0 loss to Clarke Central, Jeremy Haley rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Austin Brown completed 10 of his 17 passes for 127 yards and three scores, with Logan Conley catching two of them.

"Our offensive line was playing great and we were able to push it down their throat again," said Conley, who caught touchdown passes of 27 and 12 yards. "Last week, we had a little bit of an off game, but we pushed it back down their throat and had a great game all around, offensively. Austin was throwing the ball perfect and we were clicking."

The Falcons defense forced two turnovers, three turnovers on downs, and kept the Panthers scoreless until the fourth quarter.

"There's not a lot of speed on the defensive side of the ball and not a lot of big guys," said senior defensive back Matt Tiller, whose third quarter interception set up Flowery Branch's final score. "So we just go hard every play and everyone does their assignment."

The Falcons built a 21-0 lead heading into halftime.

With 6:30 left in the opening quarter, receiver Casey Osborne caught a 20-yard touchdown pass on a fully extended dive, bringing Brown's pass in near the left sideline of the end zone. The score followed a fourth-and-inches conversion a play earlier by Jeremy Haley, who ran 5 yards for the first down.

After the Falcons defense forced the Panthers' first turnover on downs on fourth-and-3 from the Flowery Branch 27, the offense engineered an 11-play drive that ended on Haley's 1-yard run to put the Falcons up 13-0 early in the second quarter.

"Last week, we had a lot of busted plays and (Clarke Central) had answers for what we did," said Haley, who last week was limited to 7 yards on four carries. "This week we came back strong. We had different blocking schemes and kept it simple, and the offensive line picked it up during the week. Our whole team came back."

Flowery Branch's final score of the half came on a 27-yard pass from Brown to Conley.

The Panthers' first three possessions of the second half ended in a punt, their second turnover on downs and Tiller's interception.

Four plays after the pick, Brown rolled to his right to avoid a heavy rush and hit a wide-open Conley in the middle of the end zone to give the Falcons a 28-0 lead with 1:23 left in the third quarter.

"The guys scored a lot of points early like we needed to do," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said, "and then we got conservative in the second half, tried to hang on to the ball and eat the clock, and let our defense win this thing for us."

With 7:18 left in the game, the Panthers avoided the shutout on Andrecas Jackson's 1-yard run. However, the Falcons blocked the extra point.

Flowery Branch fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but the Falcons defense once again rose to the occasion, forcing a third turnover on downs four plays later.

Panthers senior quarterback Andre Wilson believes Southwest DeKalb played a helping hand in Flowery Branch's defensive success.

"It wasn't that the defense gave us a hard time," said Wilson who completed 10 of 22 passes for 118 yards and rushed for 26 yards on 14 carries. "We beat ourselves. We had turnovers, we didn't execute —  they're a good team, don't get me wrong —  but we beat ourselves. We didn't execute our blocks and we didn't do what the coaches told us to do. It's just one of those things, you work all week in practice and then you're supposed to come out here and execute and you just don't."

Panthers coach Buck Godfrey, who has guided Southwest DeKalb to 25 state playoff appearances, was no stranger to what he witnessed on Friday.

"I've been in the playoffs long enough to know what's going on and we got outplayed," he said. "They had a good game plan, and I don't like to use excuses but our youth just coudln't catch up to the speed of the game. My hats off to the Falcons, they had a great game plan and I hope they have a great run in the playoffs. They're a good team."

The Falcons will live to play another week and Haley said Flowery Branch will be ready for the state's No. 4-ranked Kell.

"We're Flowery Branch and we don't back down," he said. "It should be a good game."


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