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Game of the week: Clarke Central an early test for No. 7 Flowery Branch in home opener
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Flowery Branch quarterback Elijah Gainey takes the snap during the Falcons September 1 win over Chestatee at The Branch. - photo by Scott Rogers

Flowery Branch is back where it all started in 2002. 

A new school 16 years ago, the Falcons will play in their original stadium in their home opener, after the addition of Cherokee Bluff High in 2018.

Seventh-ranked Flowery Branch (1-0) gets back to the first Falcons Stadium against Clarke Central (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

“We are extremely excited, because we’re bringing The Branch back home,” senior defensive lineman Cody Inman said. “We’re expecting a huge turnout, and it’s gonna be one heck of a night.”

In 2017, Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall’s squad had to dig deep against their former region foe, in a contest with big playoff seeding implications. After trailing at halftime, Flowery Branch pitched a second-half shutout of the Gladiators while forcing a pair of turnovers in a 32-14 win. 

Falcons starting quarterback Elijah Gainey said last year’s comeback triumph really “lit a fire in them,” and that same intensity should still burn bright for Week 3. 

While this is no longer a region contest, Hall acknowledged this will be the first big test of 2018 as his team emerges from a bye.

“That’s a reason why I was excited about playing Clarke Central, you know, early in the year. It’s gonna help us gauge where we are and prepare us for a really tough region,” Hall said.

Inman, who said he discovered a new level of physicality against Clarke Central last year, agrees.

“I feel like we have an advantage of playing this caliber of a team this early in the season,” Inman said. “No. 1, we get to see how hard the opponents we face down the road could be. “Clarke Central’s definitely not a team to back down, not a team to quit.”

With it, it’ll be a new-look Clarke Central offense.

Unlike last season’s encounter with a mobile quarterback in a pro-style offense, the Falcons will be tasked with slowing the pursuits of two Division I-caliber talents at running back: senior Jonathan Sewell and junior O’Brien Barnett. Sewell’s patience behind the line and Barnett’s hard-nosed running are contrasting styles to an offense that now lines up under center, with the intent to incorporate this 1-2 punch early and often. 

Hall said it will be quite the change after lining up against East Hall’s spread look in the season opener.

“They are very similar to our approach, in a way they have two backs in the backfield and make sure each one of those guys touch the ball a number of times, and use play action to throw the ball,” the second-year Falcons coach added.

The dynamic pair finished with over 100 total yards and one touchdown apiece in the Gladiators’ 17-10 win over Oconee County last Friday night. Sewell (222 rushing yards), a three-star recruit, has accrued strong interest from South Carolina among other Division I schools.

“That is No. 1 on the priority list for our defense, being aware of No. 21 and No. 2, and making sure we do a good job of having hats around the ball and wrapping up in tackling those two guys.” 

In addition, the Falcons’ ability to contain and fight up the middle during this week’s preparation has Inman confident in their abilities to slow the run game and get things done Friday. Although, Sewell and Barnett won’t be the only ones to watch out for. 

“Their receivers are definitely a threat, and definitely guys we do not need to sleep on,” Inman said. “They are playmakers, and if we let one of them free, let one of them loose, they can definitely do some damage.”

Yet the bigger points of emphasis, hinted Hall, lie in the battle for field position and on special teams, as the Gladiators have a knack for creating opportunities in the punt return/kick return game. 

“This is gonna be a game where we can’t be afraid of lining up to punt, and play good defense because field position is going to be crucial.”

Two weeks ago, eight different players scored a touchdown as the Falcons set a new single-game record for points scored in a 70-6 rout of East Hall. The Falcons, who executed in all three phases in Week 1, encounter a physical Clarke Central defense with plenty of speed on the back end. 

Edwin Summerour, a Tennessee Tech commit, leads the secondary, while nose tackle Diaquan Brown (two sacks) and outside linebacker Quavion Teasley (16 tackles) should be a pair to wreak havoc in the box.

“The details are what is gonna win the game — staying focused, staying disciplined, making the right reads,” said Gainey, who threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. “We gotta focus, make sure we do our jobs on offense, make the right reads and throw the ball well. Because if we don’t, then it’ll be a long night for us.” 

Both teams share a split of the eight-game series, with four wins apiece. 

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