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High school football: Looking back at the top 3 matchups between Gainesville and Flowery Branch
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Gainesville and Flowery Branch will meet for the 15th time this Friday in a rivalry matchup that dates back to 2002. - photo by The Times file photo

When Gainesville visits Flowery Branch on Friday, it marks the 15th installment of this rivalry that has been competitive since Flowery Branch won for the first time in 2006, 35-28. 

Over the years, the rivalry has featured a state semifinal bout in 2009, an upset win by Flowery Branch against the state champion Gainesville in 2012, a 100-point shootout in 2013 and a number of games to determine the region championship. 

Many things have changed in the rivalry over the past decade. Future Division I talent has come and gone at both schools. Gainesville and Flowery Branch both have new coaches since the rivalry started in 2002. 

Still, several of these matchups will forever be deemed classics by those in Hall County. 

Kickoff for the 2019 matchup is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Falcons Field.

Here’s a look at the top three meetings in Gainesville vs. Flowery Branch history. 

1). 2009: GAINESVILLE PUNCHES TICKET TO STATE CHAMPIONSHIP AGAINST FLOWERY BRANCH 

In 2009, the Class 3A semifinal brought a packed house to City Park Stadium for what the longtime voice of the Red Elephants, Walt Snelling, said was the biggest crowd in stadium history.

The game lived up to the hype. 

A full crowd on a cold night saw the Red Elephants rally back from a two-touchdown hole to earn a spot to the Georgia Dome. Trailing 14-0 at halftime, Red Elephants quarterback Blake Sims opened the second half with a remarkable 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. 

After Flowery Branch posted a TD on the following drive, Gainesville linebacker Thomas Sprague turned the momentum for good with a blocked fourth-quarter punt in the end zone that he recovered for a touchdown. 

The Red Elephants would go on to score 22 points in the final period, including the winning score on a 10-yard pass from Sims to Tyson Smith with 18 seconds left to play, locking up a 29-21 victory.

2). 2012: FLOWERY BRANCH STUNS GAINESVILLE, DESHAUN WATSON 

In 2012, the Red Elephants roared through the playoffs for the Class 5A state championship. However, before the regular season ended, they were upset 35-34 by the Falcons in South Hall. It all came down to a late fourth-quarter, two-point try by the Red Elephants. After quarterback Deshaun Watson hit Rodney Lackey on an over-the-shoulder pass for a 19-yard score, Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller rolled the dice and put the ball in Watson’s hands. However, it didn’t work out as planned. 

Backup Gainesville quarterback Mikey Gonzalez took the snap and handed the ball to Watson for the pass, but was dragged down in the backfield by an aggressive Falcons defense. Watson finished the game with 222 passing yards and 103 on the ground. Flowery Branch quarterback Jackson McDonald threw for 264 yards and a pair of scores. McDonald was key with a third-quarter touchdown run, followed by a 6-yard touchdown run by running back Justin Curry to wipe out a 14-point hole for the Falcons. The loss snapped a four-year run of winning the region champion for the Red Elephants.

But it marked Gainesville’s first state championship season in the GHSA. 

3). 2013: MAKE IT AN EVEN 100 

Watson rushed and threw for more than 200 yards as it reclaimed the region championship, winning 55-45. Red Elephants linebacker Devan Stringer had a big first-half interception as they raced to a three-touchdown lead. Flowery Branch would make it close late with 10-unanswered fourth-quarter points. Gainesville’s win sent it into the playoffs on a hot streak, outscoring the opposition 243-96 over the final five games of the regular season. 

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