Holloway: Gainesville's blessing on the sidelines
High school football previews: Week 4
Flowery Branch at Cedar Shoals
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Waters-Wilkins Stadium, Athens
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin; Cedar Shoals, Chris Davis
Records: Flowery Branch (0-2, 0-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Cedar Shoals (2-0, 0-0 Region 8-AAAAA)
Key players: Flowery Branch, RB Justin Curry (5-11, 180 So.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 237 Sr.), WR/DB Darius Curry (6-2, 193 Sr.). Cedar Shoals, RB Adrian Washington (6-0, 210 Jr.), QB Darius Jordan (5-10, 140 Jr.), LB L’kieth Brown (6-1, 185 Sr.).
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons’ schedule can’t get much tougher after the first two weeks, and the Jaguars, while talented and undefeated, don’t have the defense to keep Flowery Branch at bay.
FLOWERY BRANCH -- After a few of his patented bone-shattering hits during the first two games this season, Flowery Branch linebacker Jacob Allen said he would briefly get that familiar feeling.
“It’s just that good feeling from last year,” said the senior, who has a team-high 27 tackles this season. “That feeling when we were up 40-something on teams and could go home and sleep soundly instead of tossing and turning, wondering what we could’ve done better.”
This season has certainly produced some tossing and turning.
The past two seasons, in Region 8-AAAA, Flowery Branch outscored its first two opponents by a combined 169-14 in starting 2-0 both seasons.
This season has been different. The Falcons have been outscored 66-21 in a pair of losses, the program’s first 0-2 start since 2004.
Flowery Branch first-year coach and former longtime defensive coordinator Chris Griffin isn’t worried.
“I think our guys understand that we have played a different opponent than before and see the big picture,” he said. “We’re a better football team because of what we experienced the first two games.”
Instead of playing two teams in Winder-Barrow and Madison County that finished in the bottom half of the region the past two seasons, the Falcons went out and played what Griffin said over the summer was the toughest nonregion schedule he could remember. Flowery Branch fell to 2011 state semifinalist and currently No. 2-ranked Northside-Warner Robins 45-7 in the opener, and came up just short against 2011 quarterfinalist and Class AAAAAA’s 10th-ranked West Forsyth 21-14 last week.
“Everybody likes to be undefeated,” Griffin said. “But our goal is to win a region championship and make a run in the playoffs like we’ve done in the past.”
As far as those goals are concerned, the season really starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Athens, when the Falcons play Cedar Shoals (2-0), a team that has struggled recently — including two blowouts courtesy of Flowery Branch — but looks much improved this season, Griffin said.
“The last few years they’ve run the Wing-T, which hasn’t taken advantage of the players they have,” Griffin said. “This team is definitely not the same Cedar team we’ve seen.”
In last week’s 35-28 win over Elbert County at the Granite Bowl in Elberton, Jaguars running back Adrian Washington (371 yards and three touchdowns this season) rushed for 207 yards and three scores out of the new spread offense. The defense kept Blue Devils running back Tyshon Dye, a Clemson commitment, from taking over, as he finished with 117 yards on 18 carries.
What first-year coach Chris Davis liked most about his new squad’s performance was the ability to rally.
“I think our kids are very resilient,” he said. “They came back four times after being down.”
But, like Griffin, Davis knows that the real season begins against the Falcons.
“It’s what we do from here on out in the region that counts,” the Jaguars coach said Thursday. “They are the biggest game of the season. They’re tomorrow night and they’re defending co-region champs, coming in hungry for a win.”
Davis praised all aspects of the Falcons defense, which is regarded as one of the more talented around. He said he’s concerned with the big defensive line, the talented linebackers, and the secondary that dares opponents to beat them playing man-to-man coverage.
But he also noticed the emergence of a new top running back for the Falcons in sophomore Justin Curry, the latest in the line of Curry brothers, along with senior cornerback Darius Curry and 2012 graduate C.J. Curry, now at Oklahoma State.
“He stepped up and filled the void when needed,” Griffin said.
Flowery Branch right tackle Chandler Bridges likes the look of the new feature back, who ran for over 100 yards against West Forsyth and has 142 yards and a touchdown on the season.
“Personally I loved it,” the senior said of seeing Curry break out. “He seems to have a real good feel for the position, as (2011 senior Jeremy) Haley did.”
While Griffin said he isn’t ready to compare him to Haley, who had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons the last two years, the coach said he is excited about Curry’s potential after seeing him rise from, at one point, being the No. 3 running back on the depth chart.
Curry said he won the job in the scrimmage before the start of the regular season.
“The coach said whoever did best in the scrimmage would win the job,” Curry said. “I didn’t know until after the scrimmage that I had won the job.”
Now he has a secure grip on the spot heading into the region opener, allowing Flowery Branch to maintain the balance that it has, so far, seen the team both rush and pass for 204 yards so far this season.
Now the Falcons’ offense just needs a chance to break out and put up the points that the spread option at Flowery Branch has been known for. And the defense, led by Allen, is eager to be more disruptive after having yet to force a turnover in the first two weeks.
Bridges saw the team improve from Week 1 to Week 2, and appreciated the tough early schedule.
“We meshed tremendously from the first week,” he said. “And this has been a good opportunity to improve a lot.We’ve really been able to expose our weaknesses and fix them before region play.”
That was the goal the coaching staff had set out to accomplish when making the schedule, even if hasn’t been quite as easy as being able to file away a couple of blowouts early on.
But, starting tonight, every win counts toward the goal of a region title and a playoff berth, and the Falcons are ready to sleep a little better on Friday nights.
“Things are going to turn around pretty soon,” Griffin said Thursday. “Hopefully tomorrow night.”