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Flowery Branch defensive backs ready and waiting
Falcons open playoffs at Johns Creek on Friday
Flowery Branch’s Darius Curry keeps the ball away from Clarke Central’s Amir Williams Nov. 4 during a game for the Region 8-AAAA title in Athens. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

FLOWERY BRANCH — The defensive backs in the Flowery Branch secondary like to see the opposing quarterback drop back to throw.

They’ve practiced in spring drills and over the summer against some of the best wide receivers in the area, and they’re ready to show off their talents.

"We want to see a passing team, because all of our DBs have (Division-I college) potential and can guard almost any receiver," said Falcons junior cornerback Noel Padmore. "If they sling the ball around, we’re going to be ready for it."

Only in Region 8-AAAA, there isn’t a lot of slinging the ball around.

"We know that this is a run-heavy, wing-T region," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said.

The only team this season that has routinely racked up big passing yards is Flowery Branch, led by senior quarterback Kanler Coker and receivers Casey Osborne and C.J. Curry, an Oklahoma State recruit.

Even with Curry (team leader in receiving yards with 724 and 10 scores) questionable for Friday’s game as he recovers from a leg injury, fellow receivers like Jamaad Stephens and Chris Dilidili have been able to step up and prove just how deep the unit is.

Many of the other teams in the region that seldom pass may only have one or two legitimate receiving threats. It’s the reason sophomore free safety Jeremy James leads the team with just two interceptions. During the regular season, the defense allowed just 68.7 yards passing per game, while the offense averaged 213 yards passing.

James and Padmore, along with cornerback/wide receiver Darius Curry and defensive back Quinton Mayfield, among others, have contributed to the success of the secondary.

Usually though, the secondary winds up helping to stop the run and getting to watch opposing defensive backs deal with Flowery Branch’s loaded receiving corps.

"I feel for them," said Padmore.

James was in agreement.

"Most of the time the receivers we see in practice are better than the ones we see in the game," he said. "It makes us a better secondary."

The Falcons’ first-round state playoff opponent, Johns Creek (9-1), doesn’t look to challenge the secondary through the air too much more than usual.

The Gladiators, led by junior quarterback Skye Overton, do run their offense out of the shotgun, but it’s more of a modified power-I formation, and most of the damage is done on the ground.

"Basically they’re going to line up and hit you in the mouth," Shaw said. "But you’ve still got to play your responsibility (as a defensive back), still get your reads off of the quarterback."

No matter what offense Flowery Branch lines up against, the motto for the secondary is: Play the pass first.

It rings true because, if the No. 3 seed Falcons can win on the road Friday at The Coliseum in Johns Creek and resemble the 2008 team that took a road trip all the way to the Georgia Dome and the state championship game, Flowery Branch will have to stop at least on high-flying passing attack along the way.

"We’ve adopted the name road warriors," Padmore said. "And we’re going to keep going by that motto."

The No. 7-ranked Falcons (9-1) don’t resemble a team needing to become road warriors from the get-go.

Flowery Branch leads the area in scoring at 47.7 points scored per game, racking up 442 total yards of offense per game.

"Flowery Branch has a well-coached, well-disciplined team that also competes each week," Johns Creek coach Mike Cloy said. "They are certainly capable of scoring a lot of points."

The Falcons won the program’s first share of a region title as they were named co-champions along with Clarke Central and Heritage earlier this week. After each team went 9-1, Heritage won a drawing for the No. 1 seed, and Clarke Central grabbed the second seed by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over Flowery Branch.

The players, though, are still trying to get over the 38-35 loss to the Gladiators to end the regular season, when win would’ve given the Falcons the title outright.

"We wanted it bad and it was painful when we lost," James said. "We wanted the whole thing."

Along with the rest of the Falcons football team, James, a first-year starter and a transfer from Greater Atlanta Christian, is now focused on getting the winning streak going again in the postseason.

There is no recovering from a loss in the playoffs, just like there is no recovering on a play if the ball gets by James. The free safety is the last line of defense for Flowery Branch, regardless of whether the play is a run or a pass.

"As an alley player, you can’t let nothing behind you," James said. "If you do it’s a touchdown."

And, because a blown pass coverage assignment is one of the quickest ways for the opposition to score, the defensive backs refrain from cheating toward the run, no matter how few times the quarterback has thrown the ball.

If it’s clearly a run, the defensive backs swarm to the ball, something they’ve done effectively as the Flowery Branch defense has allowed just 15 points scored against per game.

If it’s a pass, it’s time for the Falcons secondary to display that talent that all too often goes unnoticed. It’s time for the defensive backs to put to work all of those hours of playing one-on-one coverage in 7-on-7 tournaments, and going up against the Flowery Branch receiving stars.

"The whole point of going to 7-on-7 tournaments in the summer was for the secondary to hone its skills and get some work in coverage," Shaw said.

In the meantime, the secondary will work on stuffing the run and getting the team further in the state playoffs.

And when the opposing quarterback drops back to pass, the Falcons will be ready.

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