Three weeks into the season, Ben Hall already has the
Flowery Branch High football team humming along on its best start in years.
Just one week after a near shutout victory against Chestatee, the Falcons put on an offensive onslaught yet again to rout non-region foe Stephens County, 31-6, Friday night at Falcon Field in Flowery Branch.
The Falcons (3-0), behind a stout running game and another poised performance from sophomore quarterback Elijah Gainey (8 of 16, 158 yards passing), put up 384 yards of offense. Despite some self-inflicted wounds that included more than 100 yards in penalties, Flowery Branch held the visitors scoreless for 46 minutes.
“Our kids are improving every day, and it’s fun to watch, and we played against a good Stephens County team, played a physical ball game,” said Hall, who has now watched his Flowery Branch squad dominate opponents 112-13 in the three-game stretch.
“I’m proud of the way the kids responded this week. We overcame some self-inflicted wounds, and we were able to finish the ballgame strong.”
Senior linebacker Colby Adams also paced a Falcon defense that sacked Indians quarterback Jackson Bell four times and pressured him all throughout to hold him to pedestrian numbers.
The one-two punch of running backs Malik Damons and Malik Drayton took advantage of the gaping holes created by their offensive line to combine for 220 rushing yards and four scores.
Hall, following last week’s win over Chestatee, mentioned Damons had all the potential in the world to be the 25-carry-a-game player. And Friday night, the senior lived up to the billing as the workhorse back trucked over defenders to tally his third-straight 100-yard performance with 156 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
Fellow senior back Drayton (79 yards) broke free in the second half to once again complement the power game with his shifty cuts and explosive speed. Drayton put the game to rest in the fourth quarter when he burst up the seam 65 yards into the end zone untouched for his only score of the night to make it 31-0 with about eight minutes left to play.
“That’s a thunder and lightning — I’m sure you media folks will have fun with later down the road,” Hall quipped of his running back tandem. “The team of Maliks had a big night, and the offensive line did well adjusting to a different front this week.”
The Falcons came out with a purpose through the air as early as their opening drive, with Gainey exploiting Stephens County’s 3-3 stack defense and obvious commitment to stopping the run. He converted a pair of big pass plays off the play-action to put the Falcons in position for their first score three minutes into the game.
His second toss off the play-fake was for a 42-yard hookup with wideout Jalin Strown deep down the visitor’s sideline, which set up an Alexander Sanchez 38-yard field goal four snaps later.
“We knew we were gonna have to loosen the box up somewhat early, so the play-action was good to us,” Hall said.
Gainey went on to complete passes to five different receivers for 143 yards in the half, including two big connections to his top target DJ Brown (five catches, 82 yards) for 28 and 26 yards — the second on a well-timed screen pass up the middle on fourth and 9 to move the chains.
Gainey’s fifth completion prolonged a drive after the Falcons made a defensive stop inside their own 20-yard line at the start of the second period. The drive was later capped by Damons on a 5-yard plunge to make it 17-0 early in the second quarter.
But a string of infractions by Flowery Branch on consecutive drives nearly gave Stephens County new life right before intermission. An offensive pass interference dismissed an acrobatic snatch-and-dash by Strown, which would have put the Falcons on the 2-yard line, and resulted in a punt.
A late hit called on the Indians ensuing drive put the visitors deep inside Falcon territory, though it resulted in a missed 24-yard field goal.
For the half, the Falcons were flagged six times for 75 yards.
Hall indicated those self-inflicted wounds need to be addressed before the Falcons enter a tougher stretch of opponents.
“We have to eliminate that,” Hall added. “We had too many offsides penalties on defense, had a couple of late hits out of bounds, a roughing the passer (in the opening quarter) extended the drive. We cannot make those mistakes against a Jefferson team.”
Speaking of Jefferson, Hall returns to Memorial Stadium next Friday night, this time as the head coach on the opposite sideline as his Falcons take on the Dragons in another non-region contest. He took the job at Flowery Branch after a successful stint at Jefferson, but his return to a place with many fond memories is the least of his worries.
“Jefferson’s a special place, and me returning to Jefferson is not what this game’s about,” Hall said. “It’s about the kids playing a quality team, and it’ll be a huge win for our program.”