Jefferson at Flowery Branch
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch
Records: Flowery Branch 1-2, Jefferson 2-1
Week 5 Previews
Flowery Branch’s football team has seen a little bit of everything this season — a close loss interrupted by lightning and rain, a big win over an in-county opponent and a big loss at the hands of an out-of-county, nonregion team.
This week, the Falcons (1-2) will face something they never have before: the Jefferson Dragons. The squads will clash for the first time at 7:30 tonight in Flowery Branch.
Despite just 23 miles between the two campuses, Flowery Branch and Jefferson have yet to meet on the football field. This year, that all changes due to reclassification pushing teams to find more nonregion games.
“This year was a scramble for a lot of programs. For a while we were holding out and trying to find one, maybe two non-region games,” Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said. “With all this reclassification, now we’re all scrambling for four and some teams five and six nonregion games.”
The Dragons (2-1) are two weeks removed from falling to Thomson High in a matchup among two highly ranked Class AAAA schools.
Last week, Jefferson had a bye week to prepare for its matchup with Class AAAAA Flowery Branch.
“Last week we set it back and really worked on ourselves and fundamentals,” Dragons coach Ben Hall said. “This week we turned our attention to Flowery Branch.”
According to Hall, his team has responded well from its 42-20 loss to Thomson after two opening weeks of combined winning scores of 86-14.
“I think we’re ready to get back out there and play somebody,” Hall said. “I wouldn’t say we were on a high after the first two games because, win or lose, we want to play our best game and we haven’t done that yet.”
Playing a complete game is something that Hall has yet to see out of the Falcons, at least on film, and he said it’s just a matter of time.
“One thing I know about Flowery Branch is they haven’t played their best football yet. You can tell that by film breakdown,” Hall said. “They’re very talented, but they haven’t been able to put a complete game together on both sides of the ball. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they start clicking on all cylinders.”
Griffin agreed, saying the Falcons have a lot of young players and guys playing new positions. The biggest thing is the group learning to continue to compete, even when things aren’t going well.
This week could be a test of that with what Griffin called “a humongous task” in front of Flowery Branch. That test will start in the trenches for the Falcons.
“I think it starts with their linemen,” Griffin said. “There are some very, very good — I mean very good — high school football players on their offensive line. They’re very good, very dynamic players in the sense they just maul people at times. They love to run behind them. There’s no mystery in that.”
Griffin said, if his squad wants be successful, his defensive front seven will have to force the Dragons to do something they don’t want to do.
“I’m going to be very honest, the entire game is going to be on that part of our team, the entire game,” Griffin said. “If that group of guys cannot stop them and force them to have to throw the ball, we cannot win. That is what I’ve preached to them all week long.”
It won’t just be those seven packed in the box defensively for Flowery Branch, but they’ll all be tasked with dealing with linemen like senior Caleb Chandler, a Division-I prospect with offers from multiple SEC and ACC schools, among others. After battling the big men up front, Flowery Branch’s defense will have to bring down running backs Colby Wood and Zack Boobas.
Wood, The Times’ 2015 Player of the Year, rushed for 2,100 yards a year ago and has 53 carries for 321 yards and five touchdowns through three games. He has also caught 10 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown.
Boobas has 30 carries for 185 yards and four scores.
Should the Falcons break through and force the Dragons to throw the ball, they’ll have to keep quarterback Bryce Moore off balance.
Moore has completed 22-of-35 passes for 324 yards and one score, which was caught by Wood.
The group set to deal with the Dragons’ offense is led by Flowery Branch senior linebacker Anthony Woodall (26 total tackles, one tackles for loss) and junior defensive end Colby Adams (16 total tackles, three tackles for loss).
As the Falcons switch to offense, they have some weapons of their own to throw at Jefferson’s defense.
“One guy you key on based on what they’ve done the past couple of games is Malik Drayton,” Hall said. “He’s a small-stature guy, but he’s a quick, explosive player they like to get the ball to. He’s a playmaker.
“Then you start dedicating too much to the outside and they’re going to hit you in the middle with the (Malik) Damons kid out of the backfield. (Nick) Lance, the quarterback, he does a good job of distributing the ball to his receivers.”
Drayton leads the rushing game for Flowery Branch with 188 yards and four touchdowns, just ahead of Damons, who has 169 yards and a score. Drayton is also averaging 50.3 yards per game receiving with 151 total this season.
With their spread offense, the Falcons will also look to spread the field, throw the ball and get the hands in playmakers in open space.
As a result, Lance has completed 42 of his 64 passes for 658 yards and five touchdowns. He’s averaging 219 yards per game. Lance has also thrown three interceptions, two of which came against North Hall in the opening game of the season.
Lance’s favorite target, sophomore Jalin Strown, has 13 receptions for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
“Flowery Branch is not the only team we’ll face that will throw the ball. We’ve seen teams that spread it out this year and our secondary has been up to the challenge,” Hall said. “Flowery Branch will spread us out and make us play sideline to sideline. We’ve seen that over the last few years and our kids are experienced in that department.”
The Falcons’ will have to contend with a swarming defense from the Dragons.
Senior defensive end Will Kellum (17 total tackles) and senior defensive tackle Dontae Wilson (14 total tackles) combine for five tackles for loss this season. Senior linebacker Blake Wright and Boobas, who plays safety for Jefferson as well, each have 14 total tackles with Boobas adding a tackle for loss.
“They’re very, very fundamental,” Griffin said of the Dragons’ defense. “They line up very predictably, which is a good thing as far as trying to call a play, but they are very fundamental. They do not make mistakes, they fit where they’re supposed to fit and they’re physical. They come downhill and win a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage.”