The new man under the headset at Flowery Branch High can breathe a little easier now.
The Falcons pitched a 38-0 shutout of North Hall at the Brickyard on Friday night, snapping a two-game skid against their cross-county adversaries to give Ben Hall a feel good debut as their head coach.
Friday’s non-region game was unmatched to last year’s storm-marred contest, which was cut short due to lightning and saw Flowery Branch fall one field goal shy of a victory over North Hall.
In its 2017 debut, the Falcons (1-0) turned the ball over on downs on the opening drive to ignite the home crowd, the first and last instance host North Hall (0-2) appeared in control. The Falcons forced a fumble on the very next play inside North Hall territory, and went on to record their first shutout victory since Sept 30, despite the team’s short week of preparation.
Hall, who brings the same multiple scheme that gave Jefferson much success in the four years prior, didn’t know how balanced his offense was after the final whistle, though the squad’s ability to overcome a slow start to score on 4 of 7 drives in the first half, then eventually accrue 336 total yards — 213 rushing — was concrete evidence.
The Falcons took control of the clock, and never looked back as a result, compliments of big hookups from sophomore quarterback Elijah Gainey to wideout Jalin Strown (six catches, 106 yards, TD) and a dangerous running back tandem of Malik Damons (17 carries, 140 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Malik Drayton (110 total yards, TD).
Gainey overcame some first-start jitters to convert 9 of 19 throws for 123 yards and a touchdown.
“I feel like in the first half, we had the opportunity to maintain balance,” said Hall. “We had some incompletions — Elijah came in and he’s a strong-armed kid and the adrenaline was flowing. You know, we tried to settle him down a little bit and he made some good throws in there, solid completions. The running backs ran really well and we played really well up front, protection was good.”
Meanwhile, the defense of Flowery Branch yielded the Trojans to 47 yards and three first downs for the contest while adding a pair of takeaways to feed more scoring drives. Hall, who was a little concerned with his guys’ physicality going into this season opener, was pleased by the adjustments throughout.
“I wanted them to fly around and play with more intensity than they did in the past,” the coach added. “We actually had a light week of work. We were helmets only two days this week, and we focused more on read keys and eye discipline. ..not bad at all. The defense played their hearts out tonight.”
Linebacker Tyler Blaylock even showed off his ball hawking abilities to set up Flowery Branch for their third score of the game, as the senior jumped a route and picked off quarterback David Seavey and returned it to the Trojans’ 8-yard line. Damon’s finished the deed with a 5-yard plunge for the score.
Damons racked up 98 yards and a pair of scores (10, 5) on his first 14 carries, while the debut of Gainey under center took a little more time to settle in. Gainey’s poise was apparent, and his arm strength obvious as he overthrew his top target Strown deep off the playaction on a pair of drives in the first half.
Despite Damons being tripped up short on fourth and short to start the game, the defense came up big on the very next play via a fumble recovery by defensive back Cameron Cordell. Two additional North Hall infractions — chop block, offsides — sustained a run-heavy, six-play drive that was capped by a Damons 10-yard rumble to put the Falcons on the board at the 6:15 mark.
Both drives ate up half of the first-quarter clock.
An Alexander Sanchez 40-yard field goal that soared high and through the uprights brought gave the Falcons a 10-0 lead after marching to North Hall’s 24. It came two plays after receiver DJ Brown failed to get his feet inbounds off a deep throw from Gainey.
Gainey’s solid chemistry with Strown became apparent before intermission to bring the margin to 24. Gainey connected with Strown on back-to-back snaps, the second for a 25-yard catch-and-run score off an inside slant.
Drayton and Damons showcased their complementary styles to cue the early curtain calls for the starters. After both squads traded punts to start the second half, Drayton opened up the Falcons third drives with an electrifying 55-yard scamper. The senior bolted up the seam and weaved down the visitor’s sideline before being brought down at the North Hall 2, then leaped over the pile and across the plane two plays later to make it 31-0.
Damons capped the scoring frenzy on back-to-back carries for the Falcons’ next possession — a 31-yard scamper, and 3-yard plunge with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
Next week, Flowery Branch hosts Chestatee on Friday at Falcon Field. North Hall visits Pickens on Sept. 8 in Jasper.