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Gainesville, Flowery Branch gearing up for 17th installment of Hall's hottest football rivalry
Gainesville football 2021
Gainesville's Naim Cheeks (9) runs to the corner in the first quarter against John's Creek in the Corky Kell Classic on Aug. 20, 2021 at City Park Stadium. Photo by Bill Murphy

No football rivalry in Hall County in the 21st century has carried the same weight as Gainesville vs. Flowery Branch. 

Sixteen times these two programs have met since 2002, including a state semifinals matchup at City Park Stadium in 2009, and a thriller that was decided on the final play for the Region 8-5A title in 2012. 

Currently, the No. 7 Falcons (2-0) have bragging rights in the non-region matchup, having won three straight games. With a win Friday at City Park Stadium, Flowery Branch will have won four straight in this series. 

The Red Elephants (1-1) have the only previous four-year winning streak in this rivalry, going back to when it all started (2002-2005). 

For Gainesville, now playing in Class 7A, this rivalry series now has an extra angle of significance. 

This is the only game all season for the Red Elephants against another school in Hall County. 

“This is a game that’s clearly hyped up, a game that everyone circles on the calendar,” fourth-year Gainesville coach Heath Webb said. “It’s a chance for our guys to play against a Hall County opponent, which doesn’t happen very often.”

Gainesville currently holds a 10-6 edge in the rivalry against Flowery Branch.

Regular season matchups in this series (2002-2009 and 2012-2015) were all on the region schedule. 

However, wins by Flowery Branch the past three seasons in this rivalry have all been non-region affairs. 

Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall said this matchup is so significant since most of the players on both sides have played against each other since they were boys in the North Georgia Youth Football Association. 

“It’s going to be a challenge for us, to say the least,” Hall said. “Gainesville is playing with a lot of momentum right now.”

For the sake of accuracy, both programs are playing with momentum early in the season. 

Flowery Branch has already bagged a season-opening win against Class 5A St. Pius X, which was No. 8 in the state, then a 31-7 win against Dawson County on Aug. 27. 

The Red Elephants rebounded with a decisive 44-0 win against Chattahoochee in Week 2, after dropping the opener against John’s Creek 26-10 in the Corky Kell Classic on Aug. 20. 

Hall and Webb both said that this matchup between Gainesville and Flowery Branch is important to keep on the schedule, in order to prepare for difficult region schedules and eventual playoff hopes. 

The Red Elephants are gearing up for playing against the six biggest public schools in Forsyth County in Region 6-7A, while the Falcons are in a deep Region 8-4A that includes top-ranked Jefferson (2-0). 

Right now, Gainesville and Flowery Branch both seem to be clicking in the running game. 

In Week 2, Myles Ivey had 156 yards on the ground for the Falcons, including a 97-yard scoring run in the second half. 

For Gainesville, junior running back Naim Cheeks is coming off scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter against Chattahoochee. 

Many expect this week’s game to go down to the wire. 

If it does, it won’t be the first time and likely won’t be the last. 

In 2012, Flowery Branch held on for a thrilling 35-34 win when it stopped Gainesville on a 2-point attempt to win try and win the game and capture the region championship.

However, that loss send the Red Elephants into the postseason en route to claiming the state championship. 

With the region title and top seed to state hanging in the balance, Webb, who was then wide receivers coach at Flowery Branch, remembers that final play very well. 

Gainesville plugged in sophomore backup quarterback Mikey Gonzalez and had starter Deshaun Watson line up in the backfield. 

Immediately, Flowery Branch’s defense recognized it as a trick play. On the direct snap to Watson, he was stopped with the ball behind the line of scrimmage. 

“That was a tremendous football game,” Webb said. 

Still, the most highly-regarded matchup in this series history was when the two programs met in the Class 3A state semifinals at a packed City Park Stadium in 2009. 

In front of an estimated crowd of more than 10,000 fans, the Red Elephants surged ahead with a blocked punt for a touchdown en route to a 29-21 win. 

The following week, Gainesville lost in the state championship against Peach County at the Georgia Dome.

After this week, Gainesville has a bye to prepare for the region opener against Forsyth Central on Sept. 17 in Gainesville. 

Also looking at a bye next week, Flowery Branch will have a non-region game against Hiram on Sept. 17 at Falcons Field. 

Friday's games

Gainesville vs. Flowery Branch

Cherokee Bluff vs. East Forsyth

North Hall at Hart County

Riverside Military vs. Druid Hills

East Hall at Franklin County

Lakeview Academy vs. Rabun Gap

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