Flowery Branch (4-0) rode a bruising rushing attack and a big special teams play to a 28-19 victory over Gainesville (0-5) Friday to stay undefeated on the season heading into the start of the region schedule.
“I’m proud of the kids for staying the course and allowing the game to come to them,” Falcons coach Ben Hall said.
Prior to the contest, Hall said the game would be won or lost in the trenches, and he was right. Flowery Branch running back Jaizen Ellingham rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, none more important than his last — a 4-yard score to seal the game.
The Falcons started their final drive of the contest with about seven minutes left to play after a Connor Mayfield sack of Gainesville quarterback Walter Dixon gave the ball back to Flowery Branch on downs. At the time, the Red Elephants had scored 13 unanswered points, cutting the once 15-point deficit to 2. Behind five carries from Ellingham and seven handoffs to Chase Dial-Watson, the Falcons drove the ball all the way down the field, chewing up the clock and working the ball inside the Gainesville 5-yard line.
With under 30 seconds to play and faced with a fourth and 1, Hall and the Falcons offense had a decision to make: play it safe and attempt a field goal or go for the win right there.
Hall opted for the latter, and was rewarded when Ellingham powered his way through a couple of would-be tacklers into the end zone, icing the game.
And while the Falcons rushing offense looked dominant on the team’s last drive, Hall said he hopes to see a more complete effort from his offensive line in games moving forward.
“We need to improve, very much so,” he said. “We weren’t consistent.”
That was certainly the case early on, as Gainesville jumped out to a quick start on Flowery Branch to start the game. On the team’s second offensive snap, wide receiver Justice Johnson rolled out to the right after taking a reverse handoff and tossed the ball deep to a wide open Lenny Chatman for a 71-yard score.
Meanwhile, the Flowery Branch offense stagnated, producing just 61 total yards on the first three drives with nothing but two punts and a missed field goal attempt to show for it.
It took a big special teams play to get things going for the Falcons.
After forcing a Red Elephant three and out deep in Gainesville territory with less than 30 seconds left in the first quarter, Flowery Branch defensive back Chandler Dial-Watson broke through the line on the punt attempt, blocking the kick. Taylor Reeves recovered the ball in the end zone to get the Falcons on the board.
“We saw the punt opportunity there, and I’m proud of them for taking advantage of that and sparking our team,” Hall said.
After the first score, Flowery Branch kept things rolling.
The Flowery Branch defense sacked Dixon twice on the Red Elephant’s following possession, and as soon as the Falcons got the ball back, Ellingham took a hand off 71 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown on the team’s first offensive snap of the drive.
The Flowery Branch offense struck one more time before the break, when a 15-yard pass from Gainey to Jalin Strown made it a two touchdown game.
The score came with only 11 seconds to play until halftime.
Still, Gainesville refused to back down.
The Red Elephants dominated the third quarter, scoring on rushes from Quintavious Hayes and Dez Brown to get the score to 21-19.
But Hall’s squad did not crumble under the pressure, eventually putting together the drive it needed to finish off the win.
Hall said he was happy with the result, but still wants to see improvements from his team as they move forward into regional play.
“We want to play our best ball come playoff time, and in order to do that, you have to improve weekly,” he said. “We’ll build off of this one.”
Flowery Branch will be back in action when it starts its region schedule on the road against White County next Friday. Gainesville will also play its first region game next week, a home matchup with Dacula.