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Game of the Week: Flowery Branch hosts Habersham Central in offensive showcase
Flowery Branch quarterback Kanler Coker hands off to running back Jeremy Haley during the Falcons’ Thursday afternoon practice at The Branch. The Falcons will host Habersham Central this Friday night.

High school football previews: Week 7

Habersham Central at Flowery Branch

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch

Radio: 550-AM, 99.3-FM

Coaches: Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham; Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw

Records: Habersham Central (4-2, 4-2 Region 8-AAAA); Flowery Branch (5-0, 5-0)

Key players: Habersham Central, QB Kevin Ellison (6-1, 180 Sr.), FB/DE Patrick Burns (6-1, 190 Sr.), WR Zac Franks (6-0, 170 Sr.). Flowery Branch, QB Kanler Coker (6-4, 210 Sr.), RB Jeremy Haley (5-8, 210 Sr.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 220 Jr.)

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Raiders and Ellison will be able to score on the Falcons, but not enough to keep up with a well-rested Flowery Branch offense. 

FLOWERY BRANCH — The top two offenses in Region 8-AAAA meet Friday night at Falcon Field, averaging 90 points per game combined between the two high-flying attacks.

Yet defense could be key.

“I feel like we could have the game on our shoulders and win with us, even if the offense doesn’t go out and score 100 points,” said Flowery Branch captain and senior nose tackle Jonathan Frick. “If we score seven we feel like that’s enough.”

This season the Falcons defense has allowed just eight points per game, although in four of the contests the starting unit left with a shutout intact, meaning that the starters, led by junior linebacker Jacob Allen (team-high 51 tackles, seven tackles for loss), have allowed just the 20 points to Apalachee this season.

Habersham Central (4-2, 4-2), however, will present a new challenge.

“Kevin (Ellison) is the best option quarterback I’ve seen in a long time,” said Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw of the Raiders signal caller. “He’s given me some sleepless nights.”

Ellison, a senior, leads the state with 20 rushing touchdowns and 1,117 yards rushing, along with 455 yards passing and five more scores.

Shaw has a background running the option as it’s the scheme he ran early at Flowery Branch, and on paper, the Falcons know how to defend the offense.

“We’ve got to play assignment football and play aggressive,” Shaw said. “You don’t wait on the option.”

The key then is not just knowing how to defend it, but executing it, something the Falcons have had two weeks to work on.

“This is the biggest game so far this year without a doubt,” Frick said.

And it’s good that the Falcons (5-0, 5-0) had a breather, because Friday’s game is only the beginning of a stretch against four teams that currently have winning records and a fifth, Loganville (2-3), that reached state last season.

But the “meat of the schedule,” Shaw said, begins with Habersham Central and Ellison.

And as good as the Raiders offense has been this year, the Falcons have been even better. Their 52.4 points per game is second in the state in scoring average.

It’s one of a very few offenses that can manage to overshadow the best defense in 8-AAAA. And it starts with Falcons quarterback Kanler Coker, who has a multitude of weapons to utilize in the spread option attack.

“We’ve got some good athletes that we scheme to get the ball to, we’ve got a good dual-threat quarterback,” Shaw said. “And we’ve got a good offensive staff to call the right plays.”

When the ball is snapped to Coker (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), he can hand off to senior running back Jeremy Haley, who leads the team with 642 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on just 62 carries, a 10.4 yards per carry average.

Or Coker could hold on and run himself; in five games he has carried 30 times for 215 yards and five touchdowns.

Or the senior transfer from North Hall can drop back and pass, something he has done 100 times this season, completing 63 percent for 1,048 yards and 11 scores. He has dynamic targets in senior Casey Osborne (19 receptions for 339 yards and four touchdowns) and C.J. Curry (18 receptions for 325 and four scores), among others.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Coker said on running the offense. “Coach (Benji) Harrison calls the right plays, and there’s a lot of options to keep the defenses guessing.”

In the Falcons offense this year, there are no bad options. The unit has averaged 459 yards per game on offense, with 236 yards rushing and 223 passing.

At Habersham Central, Ellison has also had plenty of success running the triple option offense of coach Stuart Cunningham.

In last week’s 54-10 win over Winder-Barrow, running back Brandt Rhinehardt scored twice on the ground, and Donnie Chastain, Jake Tench and Patrick Burns all found the end zone.

But the most effective option for Ellison has been simply to tuck and run. Last Friday the program’s all-time rushing leader ran for another 236 yards and three score. For the senior it was just another week in what has been a dominant season.

This time, coach Cunningham will be looking for the offense to be the best defense, simply controlling the ball and keeping it out of the hands of the Falcons’ many weapons.

“The best way to stop (Flowery Branch) is to not give them the ball much,” Cunningham said. “This offense is designed to help you stay in ball games where you might be otherwise be overmatched.”

Cunningham is hoping that Flowery Branch sees a lot less of the ball than the team has been accustomed to through the first half of the season.

Of course, the explosive Falcons offense doesn’t need much time to score, and above all else this match-up is a showcase of the region’s top two offenses, led by two very talented quarterbacks, and a key game in a tight region race.

Just don’t forget about the Flowery Branch defense.

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