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High school football: Flowery Branch falls behind big in loss to Clarke Central
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Flowery Branch's Jeremiah Ware looks for running room Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, during the first half of their game with Clarke Central at The Branch - photo by Scott Rogers

Flowery Branch, particularly its offense, took a little too long to get going during Thursday’s Region 8-5A game against Clarke Central.

The Falcons posted 112 of their 183 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter, which combined with a gutsy effort from the defense, gave them a chance late.

But it was too little, too late as the visiting Gladiators rode the domination of its ground game in the first half, plus two late interceptions from Michael Campbell to come away with a 17-7 victory at Falcon Field.

Kendrick Curry finished with 114 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, while quarterback Lucian Anderson III put up 142 yards of total offense to lead Clarke Central (2-4, 1-1).

Yet Flowery Branch (2-4, 0-2) found itself down only 10 points and in the red zone with a chance to pull even closer with just under five and a half minutes to play.

However, it was Williams’ two big plays in the closing minutes that thwarted any chance of a chance for Falcons comeback, which puts them in a tough position in the race for one of the region’s Class 5A state playoff berths.

“We made good adjustments at halftime,” Flowery Branch coach Jason Tester said. “I’m very proud of our kids’ efforts and their resiliency in the second half. They know they’re close. We’ve just got to play consistently on both sides of the ball to get it done.”

Consistency was a problem for the Falcons after a three-and-out by the defense on the opening possession of the game, and the offense moving as deep as the Clarke Central 24 before a missed 42-yard field goal attempt on their first possession.

Clarke Central dominated the first half, outgaining Flowery Branch 183-64, with 161 of those yards coming on the ground, and grinding out 12 first downs to just three for the hosts.

The Gladiators picked up 80 of those yards in just four plays on their second possession of the game, with Anderson picking up 43 of those yards on a keeper before Curry finished things off with a 5-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 Clarke Central lead with 7:44 left in the first quarter.

However, the Flowery Branch defense bent, but didn’t break over the course of the rest of the first stanza, first compelling Clarke Central into settling for a 28-yard Cooper Evans field goal 12 seconds into the second quarter and then forcing two more punts over the rest of the half.

And despite the lopsided yardage numbers, the Falcons trailed just 10-0 at intermission.

That deficit became 17-0 when a bad snap on a punt gave Clarke Central possession on the Flowery Branch 36 before Curry took it to the house on the next snap with 5:20 left in the third quarter.

Yet despite giving up 302 total yards on the night, 250 of which came via the run, the Falcons’ defense gave the team a chance by coming up with stops throughout the game, including putting enough pressure on Anderson to force an incomplete pass to turn the ball over on downs at the Flowery Branch 28 with 7:47 remaining.

Malik Dryden kept the ensuing drive alive with a 23-yard run on fourth and 1 from his own 36 to bring his team into Clarke Central territory.

After a false start penalty set the Falcons back 5 yards, Brody Jordan came up with the two most clutch throws of his 20 completions on 33 attempts for the night.

First, the 6-foot-1, 143-pound senior, who finished the night throwing for 146 yards, sent a long ball down the middle, where Caden Pelham outleapt a Clarke Central defender for a 43-yard completion down to the Gladiators’ 11-yard line.

Then on the next snap, Jordan found Jeremiah Ware in the right flat about the 5, and the sophomore stretched his 5-9 frame to hit the pylon for an 11-yard TD that pulled the Falcons to within 17-7 with 6:05 remaining. Ware finished with seven receptions for 57 yards.

A well-placed kickoff by Marco Velasquez forced Clarke Central to fall on a loose ball at its own 3-yard line, and two plays later, Zion Buffington gave Flowery Branch a golden opportunity by picking off an errant pass by Anderson at the Gladiators’ 9 with 5:20 still to play.

But on the next play, Jordan was harassed by a fierce rush and forced to throw on the run, and Campbell corralled the ball in the end zone for an interception and a touchback with 5:10 left.

A three-and-out by the defense gave Flowery Branch one last chance after taking a punt its own 34 with 2:59 remaining, and the Falcons moved as far as the Clarke 41 in five plays.

But on first down Campbell came up with his second interception at the Gladiators’ 18 with 59 seconds left, effectively dashing Flowery Branch’s final hopes.

Up next, Flowery Branch visits Winder-Barrow on Oct. 7. 

Thursday's scores

Cedar Shoals 21, Cherokee Bluff 19

Madison County 39, Chestatee 8

East Forsyth 45, East Hall 0

Clarke Central 17, Flowery Branch 7

Bethlehem Christian 24, Lakeview Academy 7

North Oconee 70, North Hall 7

Gilmer 45, West Hall 3

Lanier Christian 58, Notre Dame Academy 0

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