For the second-straight season, Chestatee High football coach Shaun Conley will be facing a Flowery Branch High head coach that once shared the same sideline as him.
When the War Eagles (1-1) play host Flowery Branch (1-0) for a this week’s matchup, Conley and Ben Hall will have their first encounter on the playing field since their days as coaching assistants at Flowery Branch.
Both were on the Falcons coaching staff that made a state title game appearance in 2008. This week, however, they go head-to-head for the very first time as head coaches.
“Knowing Shaun being on the (other) sideline, I’ve known him for a long time,” said Hall, who after a fruitful tenure at Jefferson returns to his coaching roots at Falcon Stadium at 7:30 p.m. today.
“I consider him a good friend, and I respect his program and his approach. You know, we look to have a clean, hard-fought game tonight against a quality opponent.”
Conley encountered the same predicament last year when he coached against former Falcons head coach Chris Griffin, another member of that 2008 staff.
Chestatee’s second-year coach still sees this reunion as just another game, though he doesn’t expect anything less from Hall.
Hall amassed a 44-8 record and guided the Dragons to multiple region titles and a state semifinal appearance (2016) in the previous four seasons as head coach. He also served as offensive coordinator on Jefferson’s 2012 Class AA championship team before his promotion.
“(Hall) does a great job,” Conley said Wednesday. “He has done a great job everywhere he has been. On Friday, we don’t expect anything different.”
For the 12th time since 2002, these cross-county foes meet on the gridiron, with Chestatee hoping to break an eight-game skid dating back to 2005. That includes a lopsided 49-13 loss to the Falcons last season at War Eagle Stadium.
Things may be looking up for this revitalized team. Since going winless in 2015, Chestatee is 5-8 under Conley. And two weeks ago, the War Eagles won their season opener for the first time since 2011.
In addition to the veteran staples in quarterback Storm Yarbrough (366 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions), linebacker Reggie James (three sacks, 13 tackles, one interception) and running back Nick Lyles (279 yards, five touchdowns), Conley has seen many more players step up to make the squad click thus far.
“We’ve seen — compared to two years ago — that the program has really improved, and we have a common opponent in North Hall where they really were able to put up some points and yardage against North Hall,” Hall said. “Defensively, they are a high-pressure defense, so they like to bring it and they like to blitz from the linebacker position. They like to put pressure on you. So we’re gonna have to stay poised and stay with our approach and be patient, and just let the game come to us.”
Self-inflicted mistakes prevented the War Eagles from keeping things close against an explosive East Hall High team last week. They took a one-touchdown lead in the opening quarter but turned the ball over three times and had two scores called back by a penalty in last week’s 59-37 loss.
Conley said those ailments must be fixed for things to fall into place against a talented Flowery Branch unit.
“We talked to them for two years now about (how) the most important game is the next one,” Conley said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We tried to prepare for North Hall like we did against East Hall, so we try to prepare for Flowery Branch just like we did East Hall. We try to control the things we can.”
The War Eagles’ spread attack also stacks up against an intimidating Flowery Branch front seven that recorded a pair of sacks while holding North Hall to just 47 total yards in last week’s 38-0 shutout victory.
The Falcons’ offense was also sharp, racking up 336 total yards behind the running back tandem of Malik Damons (17 carries, 140 yards, three touchdowns) and Malik Drayton (110 total yards, one touchdown). Sophomore quarterback Elijah Gainey completed 9 of 19 passes for 123 yards and a score, while wideout Jalin Strown had six catches, 106 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line headed by three seniors — Bailey Ottaway, Cannon Underwood and Dakota Little — proved to be the catalyst for Flowery Branch’s opening-night success.
“They have a good ground attack, gonna run the ball right at you,” Conley said. “They’re gonna use those big linemen, try to knock us off the ball. ... Also, they can be multiple. ... They have the personnel to be in spread if they need to. I know that’s kind of coach Hall’s thing.”
As usual, Hall called his old friend Conley on Thursday for one final chat, confirming final details for tonight. But come kickoff, it’ll be coach versus coach.