Some of the most admirable work for the Flowery Branch boys soccer team came when its coach Sean Garnett wasn’t looking.
After a thrilling goal from senior Sammy Leanos to go up on Jefferson 4-3 late in the match on March 29, a few of the Falcons’ fans trickled onto the sideline, in anticipation of a small celebration.
While Flowery Branch’s third-year coach went and kindly asked the fans to return to the stands, his captains were hard at work preparing for the crucial final minutes of the match.
However, Garnett didn’t see his team’s attention to detail, until later that night when he was loading the Falcons’ game film, after holding on for the crucial region victory.
“I was watching and saw our kids were talking with each other about where they needed to be,” Garnett said. “That was really neat to see.”
Leanos stuck the go-ahead goal into the back of the net when the ball went off a Jefferson defender that lingered in the air with enough time for Flowery Branch’s senior captain to make a good approach and swift shot with only 12 minutes left.
“That was a crazy moment,” Leanos said. “I’m gonna remember that one, for sure”.
After that special moment, with all the emotion that comes with high school sports, Flowery Branch lost the final region match against No. 1 seed East Hall, 2-1, on April 1.
The Falcons (12-2-1, 4-2 Region 8-4A) are now the No. 4 seed to the postseason, normally not a advantageous position for a team heading into the playoffs.
However, Flowery Branch’s coach feels good about the purposeful schedule his program has endured to get to this point in the season, including wins against Class 5A’s third-ranked Johnson, 3-2, and Gainesville, 2-1. Garnett feels like having his team playing against a variety of opponents, which presented contrasting styles, will give the Falcons their best chance at a deep postseason run.
The No. 4 seed was determined with head-to-head goals against the other two teams in the tiebreaker for the final three spots. Once it was settled, Jefferson became the No. 2, while Chestatee is going to state as the third seed.
Flowery Branch’s talent runs deep with Max Garnett, Cole Biasi, Andre Jimenez, Eddy Chavez, Will Watson and Sal Sengson all playing important roles.
“We’re probably the scariest No. 4 seed in the state, but it’s gonna be tough going against a No. 1 seed,” Leanos said.
With the experience on the pitch, coach Garnett was not worried about having his program play a schedule ripe with quality opponents, including wins against Parkview, Forsyth Central and T.L. Hanna (South Carolina).
It’s the same kind of scheduling that gave his program at Mill Creek in 2014 the same boost, as it proceeded all the way to the state finals, despite having the fourth seed to state.
“We’ve played those teams that give us the experience we can draw back on in the future,” Garnett said. “I want to prepare my guys for as many looks as possible. We want to see teams that are possession oriented, direct oriented, have players who are flashy that we have to deal with, and also games where we have to get on the bus and travel a distance.”
On top of the physical grind, Flowery Branch’s boys squad has had to experience its share of adversity.
Flowery Branch’s boys coach also added coaching the girls program to his list of duties this spring. Between games, Garnett could count on his boys players chatting it up in the lockerroom and in warmups together to get ready.
And the big wins have drawn special emotion from the Falcons boys.
Especially, the 3-2 win against Johnson, typically the most revered boys program in Hall County.
When the game finished, Garnett looked over to see Leanos in tears.
Flowery Branch’s coach asked if something was wrong.
However, it wasn’t something that needed attention. The senior midfielder was actually overcome with joy.
Leanos was simply overwhelmed with being able to beat Johnson for the first time in his career.
“Every year, we’ve always been smacked by Johnson and it felt so good to win my last year,” Leanos said.
There have also been some very memorable athletic showing by the Falcons in 2021, en route to a return trip to the playoffs after the previous season was cut short with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On of the most notable is Max Garnett, the coach’s son, who has connected on a pair of bicycle kicks for goals, along with a hat trick in the same half of a region match against Cedar Shoals.
Meanwhile, Jimenez also had a big showing with a pair of goals in the win against Johnson.
Chavez has been a reliable weapon for Flowery Branch in the midfield, while Sengson is a staple at goalkeeper.
Up next, Flowery Branch visits Providence Christian at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Then, it’s time to tackle state.
“If everything goes as planned, we can win the state championship,” Leanos said.