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Game of the week: West Hall, No. 9 Flowery Branch to clash in a high stakes region game
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Spartans Jeremiah Prather runs the ball during the Battle of Oakwood game between the Johnson Knights and West Hall Spartans at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele
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Flowery Branch receiver Jalin Strown reaches out to snag a thrown ball at the sidelines in front of Chestatee High's Benny Head Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, during the first half of their game at The Branch. - photo by Scott Rogers

With the high school football regular season winding down and playoff scenarios slowly starting to solidify, every region game carries significant weight. 

Friday night's Region 7-4A showdown between No. 9 Flowery Branch and West Hall is no exception, as both squads find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt with two games left.

“These two games are probably the most important games we’ll play,” Flowery Branch offensive lineman Tucker Rothschild said. “We still haven’t locked up a playoff spot. We just need to finish the season off right.”

Through the first six games of the year, the Falcons seemed destined to glide into the postseason, sitting at 6-0 and ranked as the No. 5 team in Class 4A. But a heartbreaking loss in overtime against No. 1 Blessed Trinity followed by a 20-0 defeat on the road at the hands of No. 7 Marist has the Falcons’ region record at just 2-2, narrowly holding onto third place in the 7-4A. 

Still, Flowery Branch head coach Ben Hall said the consecutive losses are not the result of poor play on his team’s part. He also said the defeats will not affect the way his Falcons perform going forward.

“Just because we’ve had two tough games, that’s not going to change who we are and the way we approach our business,” Hall said.

Much like his opponent this week, West Hall coach Krofton Montgomery has a full grasp of the importance of Friday's contest. Montgomery’s Spartans are sitting at 1-3 in a region that will likely require three wins to merit a playoff berth. He said he’s looked at the different ways playoff seeding could play out but isn’t focusing on that right now, preferring to deal with the task at hand before looking toward the future.

“I haven’t really paid too much attention to that, except for the fact that we’ve got to play ourselves into the playoffs,” Montgomery said. “We have to win tomorrow night.”

Montgomery’s Spartans will go head-to-head with a Flowery Branch squad that he said doesn’t really have any obvious weaknesses, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. 

After watching the tape on the Falcons’ narrow loss to Blessed Trinity, Montgomery came away as impressed as he ever has following a film session.

“That may be one of the better defensive performances I’ve seen in about five or six years on film, the way they played against Blessed Trinity,” Montgomery said. “It was impressive. They were flowing. They were attacking the ball. They were relentless.”

Montgomery added that in order for his team to take the victory, his players will have to win individual battles all over the field, and be precise in their execution of plays.

“It’s going to come down to player vs. player in certain scenarios, one on one, being able to make the pitch and the catch and being able to hit the hole at the right time,” he said.

Hall noted one of the biggest matchups to look for in this game is the battle in the trenches. He and Rothschild acknowledged the size and strength of the Spartans linemen, noting that offensive success will come down to getting good push at the point of attack.

Rothschild said the key to winning that trench battle starts with high effort.

“They’re pretty talented on defensive line,” he added. “They’re big. We’ve just got to play more physical than they do and just do our best every single play.”

With rain and thunderstorms in the forecast, the matchup between two programs that take pride in their physicality could end up being a close quarters fight. Inclement weather should make throwing the ball more difficult than usual. 

And with each team approaching the game as an essential must-win contest, both are preparing for a high effort, grind-it-out style slugfest come kickoff.

“They’re physical on the line of scrimmage, and they have explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball,” Hall said. “They’re a team that we feel like is improving every week. We expect a physical ball game against a well-coached team.”

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