Junior quarterback Elijah Gainey said he and his fellow Flowery Branch High Falcons try to not pay much attention to the stat sheets, and instead devote their focus entirely to improving each week.
Still, Gainey — whether he realized or not — had a stellar night Friday against Chestatee.
Gainey threw for a career-high 336 yards and five touchdowns as the fifth-ranked Falcons combined for more than 700 all-purpose yards, and found ways to score in all three phases en route to a 69-13 rout of the War Eagles in a Region 7-4A contest in Flowery Branch.
With the win, Flowery Branch (6-0, 2-0) is still off to its best start since 2011 and improved to 11-2 in the series against Chestatee, which fell to 0-3 in region play.
“They are churning along,” Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall said. “We feel like we’re improving week to week, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
The Falcons, with a reputation for milking clock on offense, decided to take a slightly different approach against the War Eagles (1-6).
Coming off another big performance against White County last week, the Falcons’ quarterback Gainey was a perfect 3 for 3 on the game’s second offensive drive, his third throw finding wideout Connor Larson — who also had a pick-six on defense — for a 25-yard strike in the end zone to put the hosts on the board less than three minutes in. From there, he fronted a Falcons offensive onslaught, accounting for all his production in the first half — even contributing a bulk to a 28-point second quarter surge.
“We wanted to continue to allow him to work in the pocket and in the rollout play-action game,” Hall said of Gainey’s performance. "We wanted to be better there, so we’re using our Friday night’s as experience for these guys for things down the road.”
Gainey (12 of 16 passing) bested his previous high by two yards (334 against White County), also connecting for a score with deep threat Jalin Strown (five catches, 133 yards touchdown) and three times to D.J. Brown (four catches, 151 yards) before intermission.
Flowery Branch also got a pair of rushing touchdowns from running back Zarian Brawner (84 rushing yards), his second a 65-yard score on the first play of the second half.
Brown, who had just 140 receiving yards entering this contest, exploded in the second period as he hauled in touchdowns of 43, 75 and 17 yards, respectively. He showed off his closing speed on his longest score, hauling in a screen pass before weaving through traffic and winning a foot race past two War Eagles defenders down the far sideline to make it 34-0 at the 5:37 mark.
“We wanted to use our athletes on the perimeter,” Gainey said of his receivers. “We feel like we have a really good group out there, and felt like our line protected well against the defense, and we really just pushed it downfield with the pass.”
Five plays later, Grant Lackey contributed to a nifty play during a Chestatee punt, catching the line-drive boot before lateraling it to his teammate Strown, who switched the field and dashed for a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Chestatee meanwhile was able to drive inside the Falcons 17-yard-line during their second drive of the game, but a War Eagles receiver dropped a pin-point pass from quarterback Christian Charles in the end zone on second-and-goal, and Charles was sacked by Chandler Dial-Watson for a 7-yard loss two snaps later.
The kick on a 34-yard field goal try was well short, resulting in Falcons’ Chase Dial-Watson catching it and scurrying 60-plus yards to set up the hosts second scoring drive. Another opportunity for Chestatee came and went minutes later. Defensive back Caleb Carter picked off Gainey near midfield, but Chestatee failed to capitalize as it went three-and-out before the end of the first period.
The Falcons otherwise kept an explosive Charles and the spread Chestatee offense in check. They kept the War Eagles to just 10 first downs and turned them over on downs twice. Charles was also sacked three additional times — each by Jerzee Allentini, Ethan McKay and Kolby Brookshire off the blitz.
Sophomore defensive back Connor Larson added to the scoring flurry, intercepting Charles and returning it 40-plus yards for a score minutes into the final period.
“We used edge pressure to contain him,” Hall said. “And he went free a couple of times still. He is quite an athlete, explosive player. Our guys did a great job defensively containing him. Our young guys had an opportunity too, but it didn’t work quite as well for us.”
As Hall said, Charles eventually found a way to break free. His scoring runs of 40 and 53 yards both came in the final quarter, the former putting the War Eagles on the board with 6:12 to play.
An 81-yard kick return for a touchdown by Flowery Branch freshman Jaheim Hayes was sandwiched in between both of Charles’ touchdowns.
Up next, Flowery Branch hosts top-ranked Blessed Trinity on Friday. Chestatee has a bye before hosting Blessed Trinity on Oct. 19 in Gainesville.