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Flowery Branch one win from first region title
Flowery Branch running back Jeremy Haley crosses into the end zone for a touchdown during the Falcons’ win over Madison County to begin the 2011 season in August.

 High school football: Week 11 previews

Region title game finally here for Gainesville

Flowery Branch at Clarke Central

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Billy Henderson Stadium, Athens

Radio: 550-AM

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Clarke Central, Leroy Ryals

Records: Flowery Branch (9-0, 9-0 Region 8-AAAA); Clarke Central (8-1, 8-1)

Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Kanler Coker (6-4, 210 Sr.), RB Jeremy Haley (5-8 210 Sr.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 220 Jr.). Clarke Central, QB Cameron Johnson (6-3, 168 So.), RB Quenshaun Watson (5-10, 175 Sr.), DB Dreko Statham (6-0, 176 Jr.).

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons have the slight edge on defense, enough to get them their first win over the Gladiators and their first region title.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch is within sight of its first region title, and a 10-win regular season, in the 10th year of the program.

The team would like to wrap that accomplishment up on the field tonight rather than have it determined by a drawing from a hat.

“It would not be even close to the same,” Flowery Branch senior running back Jeremy Haley said of that possibility.

The drawing would take place Saturday morning if Flowery Branch, Clarke Central and Heritage all finished tied atop the Region 8-AAAA standings.

Falcons coach Lee Shaw, who has led the team from the very beginning, doesn’t want to leave such an accomplishment up to chance.

“We control our own destiny. We’re the 9-0 team,” Shaw said. “If we win the ball game we win it outright, and the kids know the implications if we win or if we lose.

“We don’t want it to be determined by the draw of a hat.”

All Flowery Branch has to do to secure the milestone achievement is win. That is easier said than done as the Falcons head down to Death Valley Field at Billy Henderson Stadium in Athens on Friday to face the one region team they haven’t yet been able to beat: the Clarke Central Gladiators.

Until last year, Flowery Branch hadn’t been shut out since 2003, a 43-0 loss to Johnson back when the program was just getting started.

Then, with both teams undefeated, Clarke Central shut down the Falcon offense in a 21-0 win at the end of the 2010 regular season to grab the Region 8-AAAA title and deny the Falcons.

“It was shocking,” Haley said. “We had a lot of opportunities to score, but we didn’t take advantage.”

The Falcons are 9-0 this season, with Heritage (8-1) and Clarke Central (8-1) one game behind. A Flowery Branch win and a Heritage win would give those teams the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, heading into the state playoffs.

But if the Falcons were to lose and the Patriots were to win, it would create a three-way tie for first. Per region rules, the tiebreaker is to draw the region champion out of a hat.

Haley, along with the rest of the Falcons offense, is determined to get on the scoreboard this time.

“There’s really no way to totally stop us this year,” Haley said. “We have too many weapons.”

Last year the Gladiators schemed to take away Haley, putting more pressure on the passing game, which resulted in an interception and missed opportunities in the red zone.

This year, Haley (116 carries and 17 touchdowns for 1,070 yards) is complimented on offense by a couple of explosive newcomers in senior quarterback Kanler Coker and wide receiver C.J. Curry, both transfers from North Hall.

Coker, despite transitioning from the wing-T to the spread option offense, has exploded on the scene. This season he is 113 of 184 passing for 1,906 yards, 22 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and also has 64 carries for 557 yards and 12 more scores.

Curry has teamed up with fellow senior Casey Osborne to form an explosive 1-2 punch at wide receiver. The Oklahoma State recruit has 37 receptions for 705 yards and 10 touchdowns, with Osborne adding 34 receptions for 562 yards and six scores.

“They are as good as advertised,” said Clarke Central coach Leroy Ryals in an email to The Times. “We will have our hands full.”

The offense as a whole is averaging 49.1 points per game on an average of 232.1 rushing yards per game and 215.9 passing. It is averaging 448 yards of offense overall per game overall.

And, this tie, this is certainly not just another football game.

Last year, Shaw downplayed the meaning of the game, hoping to keep the pressure off of the team.

“In hindsight I should have played it up, because we played the game like it wasn’t that important,” the coach said. “There’s no mistaking of the importance of the game this time.”

Shaw isn’t worried about his team being overcome by the atmosphere at Death Valley, one of the more well known high school stadiums in the state.

“We’ve played in tough places before,” Shaw said. “This will be a great challenge for us.”

Not to mention the other team on the field.

Despite losing star quarterback Martay Mattox to graduation, the Gladiators have put together another impressive season, marred only by a 21-14 loss to Heritage in the second game of the season.

Flowery Branch held off Heritage 21-13 on Oct. 14.

Clarke Central is averaging 41 points per game on offense, while the defense has allowed just 17 per game.

The Flowery Branch defense, led by junior linebacker Jacob Allen (96 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and three sacks), allows an average of just 12 points per game and will be focused on slowing down Gladiators senior running back Quenshaun Watson, who has racked up 1,370 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns on 165 carries.

“He’s a special kid. He makes that offense churn,” Shaw said. “Our kids have to play good defense and swarm to the ball, because it's probably going to take more than one to bring him down.”

And while quarterback Cameron Johnson does not yet have the impressive stats of Mattox, the Clarke Central sophomore is a threat through the air, with 1,260 yards, 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions on 85 of 147 passing.

Stats would proclaim a near toss-up, but history may be on the side of the Falcons. Since 2007, a different team has won the region title each season.

Flowery Branch plans to keep that streak going and break their streak of missing out on a region championship.

“It’s the 10th year, so if we could get it this year it’d be something special,” Haley said. “We want to do this for all the guys in the past who have put in the hard work to get us where we are.”

A drawing from a hat couldn’t do that moment justice.

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