ATLANTA - The determination never wavered throughout Flowery Branch's high-flying state quarterfinal game with No. 1 Tucker.
But the magic wasn't there.
"Our kids battled," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said. "And we almost pulled off that magic again."
Late in the game, Flowery Branch senior quarterback Kanler Coker's fourth-down, desperation pass fell incomplete deep in Tucker territory, and the Tigers held on for a 42-34 win at Adams Stadium Friday night to advance to the semifinals against No. 2 Northside-Warner Robins.
The Falcons (11-2) held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and then nearly climbed out of a 15-point hole in the final minutes in a game that transitioned from a first-half defensive struggle to a second-half shootout.
The No. 1 offense in Class AAAA held off the No. 2 offense as the Tigers compiled 350 yards rushing, along with six rushing touchdowns, three by quarterback Juwaan Williams.
Flowery Branch blew past Tucker in offensive yardage (515-359) and Coker threw for 340 yards on 21 of 34 passing and two touchdowns.
He also ran for 69 yards and another score, but also threw two interceptions.
Senior Casey Osborne was his quarterback's main weapon, with 195 yards receiving on nine catches and a touchdown in the fourth to bring the Falcons back from a 15-point deficit.
"I just never gave up," Osborne said. "None of us did."
The same receiver who had made the miracle catch on the Hail Mary to beat Johns Creek two weeks prior, Osborne made another big play midway through the third when he hauled in a pass from Coker that the defense tipped and Osborne caught in stride for a 64-yard gain to set up the Falcons' first score since the first quarter.
It came after two consecutive scoring drives by Tucker in the second half to break open a defensive battle.
Jordan Landry led the Tigers with 148 yards rushing and Yusuf Minor added another 112 out of Tucker's wing-T attack.
Flowery Branch continued to get back within a score, but the Falcons couldn't manage to tie it up again, despite putting together a nearly succesful drive in the final minutes when down by eight.
"We absolutely played fearless," Shaw said. "We battled as good as any group I've ever coached.
"I'm proud of this senior class."
It was a senior class that brought Flowery Branch back to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.
Entering the game Friday after a 31-21 win over Thomas County Central and a 42-39 victory over Johns Creek, the Falcons had already improved on last year's team, which lost in the second round to Kell 21-13.
"It's the best experience I've ever had," Osborne said of playing for the Falcons. "I wouldn't want to be in any other program."
Osborne and the offense kept up the scoring, but once again the Flowery Branch rushing defense had trouble, made worse when junior linebacker Jacob Allen went out with a leg injury.
In the past two weeks, the Falcons had trouble against two very good rushing offenses, allowing 322 yards rushing to Johns Creek and another 299 to Thomas County Central.
Tucker entered Friday night's game with an even better rushing offense than Flowery Branch's first two playoff opponents, averaging 304 yards rushing per game.
The Tigers exceeded that total and only gave the ball up once, proving a very hard unit to get off the field.
The Falcons did, however, start strong.
Flowery Branch raced ahead to a 14-0 lead on the first two possessions of the game; Tucker responded with two scores, the second with 11:35 remaining in the half; and then the defenses took over, resulting in a 14-14 halftime score.
The Falcons' opening drive of the game spanned 95 yards, 12 plays, four first downs and culminated with a 1-yard plunge by Haley with 8:09 remaining in the quarter.
Ten of the plays were on the ground, as Haley and Coker moved the chains.
The Flowery Branch defense stopped Tucker's variation on the wing-T attack after one first down and took over on offense again at the 39-yard line after a Tiger punt.
This time Flowery Branch took eight plays to go down field, including a first down on a reverse to C.J. Curry, who later scored on a 7-yard pass from Coker to put the Falcons ahead 14-0 with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
Tucker only needed two plays to cut the lead to 14-7, as Landry weaved through the defense and raced 38 yards for a touchdown.
The Tucker defense picked off Coker at the 25-yard line on the first play of the Falcons' next drive, and quarterback Juwaan Williams ran the ball in from 13 yards out five plays later to even the score at 14-14 less than a minute into the second quarter.
The Tigers kicked and recovered an onside kick on the next possession, but Yusuf Minor fumbled after a reception and the Falcons took over.
Neither team scored again in the half. The Falcons had a 13-play drive, but Coker threw his second interception on the Tucker 16-yard line and the Tigers ran out the clock on the half.