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WINDER — The Apalachee football team may have played its best single half of football this entire season Friday against Region 8-AAAAA standout Flowery Branch.
But a single half of dominant play doesn’t equal a win, and the Wildcats found that out the hard way when the Falcons roared back from halftime deficit to win 30-20 at R. Harold Harrison Sports Complex in Winder.
Apalachee (1-4, 0-3 Region 8-AAAAA) led 14-3 at halftime and held Flowery Branch (4-2, 4-0 Region 8-AAAAA) to just 86 total yards of offense, but the Falcons punched it in four rushing touchdowns to make up for a sluggish first half and win their fourth straight after an 0-2 start to the season.
“It wasn’t a scheme issue — we didn’t change what we were planning to do at the beginning of the game,” Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said. “We just had to get it right inside of our heart. I’m proud of our guys. They stepped up.”
With the win, Flowery Branch stays unbeaten in region play and continues to chase down Gainesville for the top of the standings.
At the same time, Apalachee remains on the hunt for its first region win of the year and an end to a four-game losing streak that dates back to the second week of the season.
But if the first half of Friday’s game says anything about the Wildcats’ capabilities, then that evasive win certainly isn’t out of question next Friday against Loganville, which has started the season with the same record.
“We’re a better football team than we were a week ago, and we’ll be a better football team next Friday than we are right now,” Apalachee coach Shane Davis said. “We’re just going to continue to try and get better ourselves, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Wildcats controlled the momentum of the first half, outgaining Flowery Branch by more than 100 yards and finding success with the ground game out of their Wing-T formation. They put the first tally on the scoreboard eight minutes into the first quarter with a goal-line quarterback keeper by Clint Ashe, using a 51-yard run by Zay Henry to work up the field.
Flowery Branch kicker Will Filson missed a 39-yard field goal attempt on the next drive, but made up for it just two minutes into the second quarter from 32 yards to put the Falcons within four of Apalachee.
The Wildcats countered with more powerful offense, capping off a successful drive with a 15-yard touchdown run by Eric Tanner to lead 14-3, which they would take into halftime.
That’s where Flowery Branch began to demonstrate what makes it a threat at the state level on an annual basis.
After shutting down Apalachee in its own territory on the opening drive at the half, the Falcons got to their work erasing their deficit.
It began with a 25-yard touchdown run by Justin Curry, moving his team to within four with 8:43 left to play in the third.
Curry then gave Flowery Branch its first lead of the night halfway through the third, picking up three straight runs of more than 10 yards to briskly move the Falcons to the Wildcats’ goal line.
The sophomore punched in the go-ahead touchdown, and Flowery Branch was up 17-14.
Curry picked up 167 of his 176 yards in the second half to lead the Falcons’ offense. He coughed up a fumble on Apalachee’s goal line, but made up for it with more big plays in the fourth to keep his team ahead.
“He came out in the second half with a mission,” Griffin said. “He had a tough fumble there on the goal. He was the first one to know that he had screwed up, and he took it pretty hard. He made up for it, and he made some plays for us.”
Curry nearly scored a third touchdown in the fourth quarter, but a block in the back penalty nullified the play.
Such was the case for two more touchdown runs late in the game for Flowery Branch, which racked up more than 100 yards of penalties in the game.
“I don’t like to use that as an excuse,” Griffin said. “I saw something different, but that’s what (the referees) get paid to do, and whether I agree with them or not, we’ll live with what happens on the field and the calls they make.”
The Falcons scored twice in the fourth quarter, first on a 12-yard run from quarterback Jackson McDonald, and late in the quarter on an 18-yard end-around by Cameron Davis.
Apalachee’s last breath of life came on a 14-yard run by Ashe — his second touchdown of the game — with 1:43 left, but Apalachee could not recover its ensuing onside kick and regain their lead.
“(Flowery Branch) got a little momentum going in the first couple of drives in the second half,” Davis said. “They did a good job of making some adjustments at the half.”
Flowery Branch faces off against another Winder team next Friday, when it hosts Winder-Barrow.