ATLANTA – It started with the defense, continued with the offense and resulted in a Flowery Branch 35-21 win over Grady on Friday night at Lakewood Stadium.
The Falcons’ defense, riding momentum from last week’s win over Region 6-AAA champion Ridgeland, came out resilient again, holding the Grey Knights to 6 yards of total offense in the first quarter and only 56 in the first half. Grady was held to just 88 yards rushing for the game.
The offense picked up where its defensive cohorts left off, scoring twice in three minutes to start the third quarter, gaining a lead the Falcons would not relinquish.
With the win, Flowery Branch not only erased memories of a last-second loss to Grady in 2006, but moves on to the state quarterfinals for the second year in a row. The Falcons next face Carver at 7:30 p.m. next Friday night in Columbus.
"If your defense is playing well you’re going to win games, especially playoff games," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "Our defense is peaking at the right time, our team is peaking at the right time and it’s paying off."
After forcing Grady to punt on its first three possessions, Flowery Branch finally capitalized on its third possession, scoring the game’s first touchdowns on a 16-yard pass from Connor Shaw to Robby Boudreau.
The Falcons got on the board again four minutes later when, after a fumbled snap on a punt attempt by Grady, Jacob Allen scooped up the loose ball and ran 10 yards for a touchdown.
Grady, Region 5-AAA’s No. 2 seed, got to within a touchdown with three minutes remaining in the first half on a 3-yard run by Ramel Crenshaw. That run accounted for all of Grady’s yards in the first half.
"Our team wanted this game," Connor Shaw said. "We had the best week of practice I think we’ve had all year and we wanted to win."
Never was that more evident than in the way the Falcons began the third quarter.
Flowery Branch received the second half kickoff and proceeded to drive, using the no-huddle, 80 yards on nine plays. The drive was capped with Shaw’s second passing touchdown of the game, an 18-yard strike to Rodney Young.
Young finished as the game’s leading receiver with 11 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.
"We got Grady tired (with that first drive of the second half)," coach Shaw said. "Our guys are in good shape and we knew we could no-huddle and that was the difference tonight."
It was the difference until Grady’s ensuing possession. The Falcons held the Grey Knights to a three-and-out sacking Grady quarterback Treveon Albert for a 5-yard loss on third-and 14. Having forced another punt – Grady’s fifth of the game – Flowery Branch rushed the punter, causing a 9-yard punt that had the Falcons beginning their second drive of the third quarter at the Grady 20-yard line.
Two handoffs to Imani Cross later, the sophomore running back had his first touchdown of the game, from 14-yards out, and the Falcons had a 28-7 lead.
Cross finished as the game’s leading rusher with 87 yards and two touchdowns.
The Grey Knights scored on their next two possessions to pull to within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, evoking memories of 2006.
"I just told the guys to keep their cool and keep playing hard because we had the lead," coach Shaw said. "They didn’t panic but instead just made plays.
"They showed a lot of resiliency and responded. They hit adversity back in the mouth tonight."
And that was the case on the Falcons’ first drive of the fourth quarter as Shaw conducted a 72-yard, four-minute drive capped by Cross’ second touchdown of the night. Using the same philosophy as they did against Ridgeland — use the running game to milk the clock with the lead — Cross ran on six of the final seven plays of the drive to give his team a two-touchdown lead en route to a win by the same margin.
"It was a nonstop, crazy game," Connor said. "We knew Grady could come back and would come back because they are a good team.
"It was just a great game."
Shaw sealed the win with an interception at the Flowery Branch 1-yard line on Grady’s ensuing drive. It topped a night in which he was 19-of-24 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 73 yards and had the late pick.
"(Connor) showed a lot of ‘want-to’ tonight," coach Shaw said. "He and (brother) Jaybo (Shaw) talked about the game last night and watched some film. ... He wanted this one.
"We live for another round."