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Flowery Branch wins third straight, 30-16 over Salem
Falcons face Gainesville in showdown for playoff spot next Friday
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With a chance to seal a victory Friday night, Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin wavered on whether to attempt a field goal or go for it on fourth-and-inches at the goal line.

“I wanted to go for it,” Griffin said. “When you’re on the 1-inch line you think it’s a no-brainer, but I had to be smart and know that a field goal was going to make it a two-score game. I initially sent the field goal team out to get the points but the guys, I could just see it in their eyes, they said ‘We want these points.’”

Griffin put his faith in his offense, and the Falcons rewarded him.

Jasen Johnson plunged into the end zone on fourth-and-goal inside the 1-yard line with 1:35 left in the game as Flowery Branch sealed a 30-16 victory over Salem on senior night at Falcon Field.

“My mindset was (focused on) whatever I could do to get in the end zone,” said Johnson, a senior who also hauled in a 10-yard touchdown reception earlier in the game.

“I had faith in our (offensive) line and they came through big time.”

The Falcons (6-3, 5-3 Region 8-AAAAA) extended their winning streak to a third straight game and, more importantly, kept their playoff hopes alive. They will face Gainesville at City Park Stadium next Friday with a chance to secure a spot in the postseason.

Flowery Branch pulled out the win over Salem (4-5, 3-5) despite being outgained 259-243 in total offense.

The Falcons limited Salem quarterback D.J. Carter to only 24 passing yards and an interception in the second half after allowing him to throw for 130 yards and two touchdowns before halftime. He completed 9 of 17 passes for the game.

“We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but we pride ourselves on being able to go in at halftime and fix those things,” Griffin said. “I’m so proud of our guys. They came out second half and said, ‘This is our house and we’re going to win this thing.’”

Flowery Branch took an aggressive approach in the second half after falling behind 13-8 in the first half.

The Falcons tried an onside kick on the opening kickoff of the second half and recovered it at the Salem 48. The Seminoles also drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play, allowing the Falcons to start the drive at the 33.

Quarterback Korey Graham hit Johnson on a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle on third and goal from the 10 to give Flowery Branch a 15-13 lead.

Salem regained the lead, 16-15, on a 27-yard field goal by Greg Bennet with 5:07 remaining in the third quarter, but those were the last points the Seminoles could muster.

Flowery Branch responded with a seven-play, 58-yard drive on the ensuing series, punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Cortez Davis out of a wildcat formation. He then faked a handoff and carried the ball into the end zone a second time for a two-point conversion that increased Flowery Branch’s lead to 23-16.

“Our guys know what’s at stake,” Griffin said. “It was just a fun senior night for those guys to come out and beat a very a good team.”

Salem led most of the first half and took a 13-8 lead into halftime thanks to a 45-yard touchdown pass from Carter to Andrew Morton late in the second quarter.

The Seminoles jumped out to a 7-0 lead early when Carter hit Justin Marshall with a 25-yard touchdown pass with 4:21 remaining in the opening quarter. Flowery Branch cut the gap to 7-2 courtesy of a safety with 36.7 left in the period, after pinning the Seminoles at their own 1-yard line on a punt.

Flowery Branch took its first lead, 8-7, when Malik Drayton (12 carries, 83 yards, TD) broke a 50-yard touchdown run down the right sideline with 3:44 left in the second quarter. The run capped an eight play, 91-yard drive that was kept alive by 16-yard and 14-yard pass plays from Graham to Kyle King on a pair of third downs.

Now Flowery Branch must find a way to beat Gainesville in order to complete its late-season playoff push. The Red Elephants have won the last two meetings in the series.

“This game is going to be huge,” Johnson said. “(A win gets) us in the playoffs, and it’s our No. 1 rival.”

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