Special teams dominance set up Flowery Branch (1-0) to take an early lead in their opening night road matchup against East Hall (0-1), and the Falcons went on to command all three phases of the game, running away with a 70-6 victory.
“I’m proud of the way we came out, and we played hard,” Flowery Branch head coach Ben Hall said of the performance.
The tone of the game was set on the opening kickoff when a surprise onside kick attempt from the Vikings was recovered by Flowery Branch at the 50-yard line. A 36-yard pass from Elijah Gainey to Jalin Strown a few plays later set the Falcons up for their first score of the game, a 2-yard plunge by Zarian Brawner.
Strown made another big play the very next time he touched the ball, catching an endaround lateral from Grant Lackey on a punt return and taking the ball all the way into the right corner of the end zone to put Flowery Branch up two scores.
After the game, Hall said he had put an emphasis on winning the special teams battle ahead of the week one matchup.
“That was the goal coming in,” Hall said. “Not having a scrimmage, we were unsure of special teams. We were not perfect by any means. … Overall I was pleased with a lot of our kids’ efforts, but we’ve got a lot of things to clean up.”
Starting Viking quarterback Kyle Baugh was intercepted deep in East Hall territory on the team’s next drive, setting up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Gainey to D.J. Brown which extended the Falcon lead to 21-0.
Baugh was subsequently benched for Clete Cooper. Flowery Branch’s Chase Dial-Watson added a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Dial-Watson’s big play put Flower Branch up 34-0, and the Falcons never looked back, riding a dominant rushing attack for much of the first 24 minutes.
Offensively, Gainey ended the half with efficient 13-of-15 passing, gaining 190 yards and tossing two touchdowns.
“I felt like I did pretty good, but there was a lot of things I could have improved,” Gainey said. “I could have stood in the pocket a little longer. I could have put a little more on my balls. I’ve got to hurry up the offense a little more. But besides that, I thought I did pretty good.”
Gainey put the finishing touch on a nearly perfect opening half by throwing a touchdown pass to Lackey on the last play before halftime, putting the Falcons up 57-6 with two quarters still left to be played.
“It felt great,” Gainey said of finishing the half with a touchdown pass. “It was a pretty nice play, but I give that to my receiver, my line and my running back.”
Gainey was pulled for a second half that was essentially a formality with the score already well out of hand. Backup Falcon quarterback Austin Hatcher led the team to a pair of scoring drives over the final 24 minutes, and Flowery Branch coasted to the 70-6 victory.
After the game, Hall said he was happy to get the win, but fell short of expressing pure satisfaction in the performance before getting in the film room to study the game. Despite the lopsided win, he said his team still has work to do and is far from a finished product.
“Now we’re heading into an off week, and we’ll hopefully make some fundamental corrections and move forward,” Hall said.
After Flowery Branch’s bye next week, the Falcons will play against Clarke Central on the road on Aug. 31. Meanwhile, East Hall will try to regroup before traveling to take on Union County next Friday.