For all intents and purposes, Friday night’s game between Flowery Branch and Gainesville doesn’t carry any more weight than a typical non-region contest.
According to Falcons head coach Ben Hall, staying healthy and keeping the team in high spirits heading into the region schedule are the main goals going into the rivalry matchup.
“We would like to win as many games and create as much momentum as we can heading into a tough region schedule,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can, and hopefully play well tomorrow night.”
But for the students, parents and athletes representing both the Falcons and the Red Elephants, this particular game is a bit more important.
“To our kids and our coaches and the community, everybody obviously wants to win the game,” Hall said. “On both sides.”
The annual rivalry game between the two Hall County programs has been an important one for both programs over the past decade, but this year the team’s come into the game in largely different places.
Approaching the halfway point of the high school football season, no local team has been quite as hot as Flowery Branch.
The Falcons are 2-0 (their third contest against Winder-Barrow was called after one quarter due to weather) and have yet to allow a single point on the year. The team is averaging a healthy 44 points a game on offense, and has played nearly flawlessly thus far, despite the preseason loss of starting quarterback Elijah Gainey.
Hall said a strong class of seniors has been the most important driving force in Flowery Branch’s quick start to the year.
“We have such a great senior class as far as character and leadership,” he said. “They prepare as well as any group I’ve ever had. They take pride in playing hard, and I think that’s the key to success in all phases of the game, is knowing what to do and doing it full speed with everything you have.”
Gainesville’s task — despite recent struggles in a 41-7 loss to Jefferson — is to stop or at least slow down the Falcons attack that has been firing on all cylinders since opening day.
According to Red Elephants coach Heath Webb, complexity is not the issue when it comes to Flowery Branch.
“We’ve got to execute,” he said. “That’s the thing. They’re not complicated. What you see is what you get. They’re not going to do anything that’s going to catch us off guard or surprise us. So we’ve just got to execute.”
Execution hurt Gainesville last week, when inconsistent effort defensively allowed the visiting Dragons to rack up over 300 rushing yards.
Flowery Branch’s more traditional run-heavy offense does not share many similarities with Jefferson’s triple option, but Webb said there are still lessons to be learned from last week’s defeat that could be useful in the upcoming game.
“The one thing that we can take away from our learning experience last week is we’ve got to be physical on every single play,” he said. “The moment you’re not physical, you end up costing your football team. You get nine guys out of 11 doing what they’re supposed to do — playing physical, playing with energy and enthusiasm. And the two that aren’t are the two that cost you.”
On Flowery Branch’s part, Hall said limiting explosive plays from Red Elephant playmakers, like quarterback Gionni Williams and wide receiver Walt Dixon, as well as consistently winning the battle at the line of scrimmage will be the most important keys to moving to 3-0.
Outside of that, it just comes down to continuing to do what has worked so far this season.
“Just playing our game and letting the kids grow,” Hall said. “That’s the key.”