FLOWERY BRANCH — Capitalizing on an opponent’s mistakes is a key element to winning.
Just ask Flowery Branch.
With the score 21-10 at the half, West Forsyth fumbled on its first two possessions of the second half, sparking two quick scores for Flowery Branch en route to a 42-16 victory Friday night at Falcon Field.
With the win, the Falcons (8-1, 4-0 Region 7B-AAA) are assured a spot in the state playoffs, their fourth straight berth, and a showdown in two weeks at Bobby Gruhn Field against Gainesville for the region title.
"This was a ‘have-to’ win," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "The (wet) conditions made for a level playing field but our guys came out focused. They knew what was at stake and finished it."
Connor Shaw led a potent Flowery Branch offense, passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 76 yards and a score.
"Connor stepped up to the challenge," Shaw said. "He threw the ball well in the rain and I’m proud of him.
"He had his best performance of the season in a crucial situation."
As did a Falcons’ defense, which was facing a West Forsyth offense which came in averaging 40 points a game.
Led by Izaan Cross (four tackles, one for a loss), Cory Sanderson (six tackles), Greg Palmer (five tackles), Matt Bell’s two fumble recoveries and interceptions by Chris Lipscomb and David DeLeon, Flowery Branch’s defense held West Forsyth to 161 yards rushing, 69 yards passing and only one offensive touchdown.
"We shut them down," Cross said. "We knew we had a big challenge tonight and we were up for it.
"It was senior night and we knew coming in that we wanted it. We wanted to make this a night to remember because we knew it might be the last time playing (at Falcon Field this season)."
Flowery Branch jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 43-yard touchdown run by Shaw and a 1-yard score by Rodriquez Frazier.
Frazier’s only score of the night was set up by a 60-yard pass from Shaw to Lipscomb.
Flowery Branch had the chance to put the game away in the first half, but costly mistakes kept the game close.
On the Falcons’ ensuing possession following a 21-yard field goal by West Forsyth’s David Rooney, making the score 14-3, two Imani Cross plays of more than 30 yards both were called back by penalties.
At the end of that drive, a Falcons’ punt at the 16-yard line was blocked and recovered in the end zone by the Wolverines’ Trey Rood to make the score 14-10 and breathe new life into West Forsyth.
Flowery Branch stifled the Wolverines’ momentum quickly, however, scoring on its next possession, a 27-yard run by Imani Cross.
With Daniel Drummond out with an injury for the second straight game, Imani Cross finished as the game’s leading rusher with 93 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.
Shaw said Drummond will be ready for the Gainesville game and was held out for precautionary reasons against West Forsyth.
"We brought Imani along the right way," Shaw said. "We didn’t throw him to the wolves early and he got to come along slow, watching (Daniel) Drummond and getting good practice.
"He had his coming out party last week and just continues to get better, not only in games but in practice."
The same mistake bug that bit Flowery Branch at the end of the first half got hold of West Forsyth early in the second half, putting the Wolverines in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
Two Flowery Branch fumble recoveries by Bell on West Forsyth’s first two possessions of the half led to Falcon touchdowns.
The first came on a 1-yard run by Imani Cross, the second on a 13-yard pass from Connor Shaw to Lipscomb.
Lipscomb finished as the game’s leading receiver with three receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Flowery Branch scored its final touchdown on its third possession of the second half, a 5-yard pass from Shaw to Darius Kimbrough.
With the Falcons’ second teams in and the clock running through the fourth quarter, West Forsyth was able to get its only offensive score of the night, a 3-yard run by quarterback Lance Baker.
Baker finished 4-of-11 passing for 34 yards. Ethan Shirley was the team’s leading rusher with 57 yards on four carries.
"We asked the seniors before the game to put it on their back and they did," Shaw said. "Our guys are doing what they do offensively and defensively and they are playing with a lot of confidence.
"All I can say is we’re clicking."
Flowery Branch returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 when it travels to Gainesville. West Forsyth next plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Chestatee.