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Game of the Week: Flowery Branch offensive line looks to set tone against Cedar Shoals
Falcons coach Ben Hall has successfully installed strong offensive, defensive lines in first year
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Flowery Branch running back Malik Damons (3) runs with the ball in the game against Stephens County on Sept. 8 in Flowery Branch. - photo by David Barnes

Patrons attending Flowery Branch High football games typically see the more common names capturing the spotlight most Friday nights. 

It could be Malik Damons bulldozing up the gut and breaking tackles, or Malik Drayton displaying his breakaway speed with an electrifying touchdown run. Perhaps it’s sophomore quarterback Elijah Gainey connecting with one of his receivers on a huge pass play down field. 

But how each play manifests, what often goes unseen to the naked eye, is what makes it all possible.

Look a little closer and you’ll notice a lineman racing downfield to throw a block for his teammate, or the left tackle cutting off the pass rush along the edge to give his quarterback one more second to find an open target.

It all starts up front.

“I truly believe that if you have a sound line of scrimmage, you can have success,” Falcons coach Ben Hall said. “And our kids have bought into that philosophy and our guys are playing well up front.”

Hall’s intentions were clear from the start — the one constant year-in and year-out is developing a line of scrimmage on each side of the ball, as stated by the first-year head coach after last week’s Region 8-5A opener.

“You’re not always gonna have a blue-chip running back, a blue-chip quarterback or receiver. But you’re always gonna have those kids that wanna play football, that range from 200-250 pounds, that you can develop into players,” Hall said. 

Right tackle Bailey Ottaway, left guard Cannon Underwood and left tackle Dakota Little provide crucial senior leadership for an offensive line that has been the catalyst behind the offense averaging 39 points and 383 total yards a game for the Falcons (4-1, 1-0 region). The ‘thunder-and-lightning’ backfield of Damons (666 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Drayton (284 yards, six touchdowns) have combined for 950 of the team’s 1,065 yards at a rate of 6.7 yards per carry. 

Hall commended offensive line coach Chris Warbington for the line’s success in understanding the scheme currently in place. As for building cohesiveness in that area, Hall added the task was as simple as making sure there is a joy for the game.

“That’s one thing that’s important, year-in and year-out, especially for an offensive line that the players like one another. We have a close group of guys that are growing together and they enjoy practice,” Hall said. “ ... We wanna work the kids, but we want them to enjoy each other, and enjoy the process of development. We’re doing a good job of that. Morale’s high.”

And let’s not forget the defense. 

In a five-game stretch, the Falcons have generated pressure up front and in the box at an alarming rate: 17 sacks recorded on 18 hurries. 

Hall said he noticed a sense of confidence grow in his kids after going toe-to-toe with Jefferson two weeks prior, especially from his offensive and defensive linemen, despite the narrow loss. That elevated play will especially be needed against Cedar Shoals tonight. Hall said the Falcons cannot afford to have this region matchup turn into a game of explosive plays against a speedy opponent. 

The Jaguars were on the cusp of being a ranked team in Class 5A before a lopsided loss to longtime rival Clarke Central. Hall said the Jaguars are a much better team than the final score indicates.

A sound defense, talented quarterback and shifty running back in Jerphari Colbert (422 rushing yards, three touchdowns) means the Falcons will have to change gears, according to Hall.

“This is gonna be a game where we lean on the offensive line,” he said. “Our kids realize that because if we turn this into a footrace, then we’re not gonna fare very well. If we can play our game, be patient and let the game come to us and control the ball — in order to control the ball, you have to control the line of scrimmage — I think we will be OK.”