FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch High football coach Lee Shaw can look back and say that his team’s run to the Class AAA state championship game sounds like a Cinderella story.
The No. 3-seeded Falcons had to win four road playoff games — including two against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 — to qualify for the championship game against Cairo at the Georgia Dome. Few people expected Flowery Branch to be able to withstand traveling more than 1,000 miles in the postseason, much less make it further than any school in Hall County since 1982.
That’s why it’s a year that Flowery Branch and its fan base will not soon forget.
"That’s kind of one of those things that people will talk about for a long, long time," Shaw said. "It looked like we drew as tough as it gets with matchups, but our team just continued to step up and get better and better."
For his efforts, Shaw is The Times 2008 All-Area Coach of the Year.
The Falcons’ seventh-year coach had a formula that seemed to work to perfection once the postseason hit: He didn’t change anything at all. When Flowery Branch left school for a long Friday trip to play a playoff game, he expected the Falcons to pick up where they left off after winning, with another week of practice on Monday.
"Coach Shaw was always confident in us," Falcons defensive end Izaan Cross said. "And he believed that we would win."
"I’m sure everyone here at Flowery Branch loves coach Shaw," Flowery Branch senior running back Daniel Drummond said. "This community is excited about what he’s done, taking this team from 0-10 the first season to the state championship game in seven years."
This season was filled with memories for Shaw. Making it to the state semifinals and state finals for the first time in school history surely rank near the top.
Shaw says one specific memory is looking into his team’s eyes at halftime of Flowery Branch’s state quarterfinal game against Baldwin. The Falcons were trailing the Braves 17-7, but Shaw could see they were about to do something special. He could see they weren’t about to roll over for No. 2 ranked Baldwin.
"I think we were a little frustrated going into halftime of that game," Drummond said. "But he just looked at us and said, ‘Do you believe,’ and we said, ‘We believe.’"
Shaw says the Falcons already believed in themselves after winning in the last minute of the second round against Ridgeland. Flowery Branch learned it was a pretty good football team to beat a team that won its region title during the season.
"I felt like that gave us a great shot of momentum," Shaw said. "Once we played a team that we knew nothing about, traveling that many miles, it was like, "Ok we can play on the road anywhere.’"
With such a successful season under Flowery Branch’s belt, Shaw says that he can already see the anticipation for next year underway. Shaw has an automatic pulse on the team being the father of starting quarterback Connor Shaw.
"All day (last) Sunday he was walking around with a ball in his hands like a caged lion, saying I can’t wait til next year to get back and get that ring," Shaw said. "They are all hungry to get back and finish what we started."
Flowery Branch’s success this season has also further enhanced Hall County’s growing reputation in football. Combine Flowery Branch’s trip to this season’s state title game with North Hall’s trip to the state semifinals, in 2007, and everyone is seeing that Region 7-AAA has a pretty strong region.
"I think programs are getting better and better, and players are getting better and better," Shaw said. "And it gives something for everyone to shoot for and try to top what we just did."