For four years, the Flowery Branch offense had a solid identity.
A no-huddle, spread option attack led by Jaybo Shaw.
From the summer before Shaw’s sophomore year to his senior year, the Falcons went into the season knowing they had a seasoned veteran running the offense who could keep them in any game and get them out of any jam, with his legs, with his arm and with his supporting cast,.
With the departure of Shaw, however, went the ability to rely on that solidified identity.
“I think our lack of an identity for this year was pretty evident in the first three or four games of the season,” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said.
Over the course of the first four games of the season, a stretch in which the Falcons went 3-1, Flowery Branch was averaging a little more than 27 points per game.
That number was enhanced by a 42-point effort against Lumpkin County and the defense’s ability to score off of turnovers.
However, with the fifth game of the season, a 41-7 win over Johnson, came the start of subregion play and the breakout performance of an offense with an identity all its own.
Gone were the days of the spread attack being the sole weapon, and in its place was an offense that could run the spread efficiently, but also utilize the triple option with Connor Shaw under center.
“Early in the season people expected the spread,” said Connor Shaw. “And we came with a solid run game in the triple option and a little underneath rather than the shotgun.”
“We were kind of holding back some stuff until we hit subregion play scheme-wise,” Lee Shaw said. “But it really took about four games for the coaches to find the identity of the offense as much as the players.
“And once that started to take place, Connor (Shaw) started getting more and more confident at quarterback and we started better utilizing what he and everybody else was doing.”
Since the Johnson game, first-year starting quarterback Shaw, along with running backs Daniel Drummond, Imani Cross and Darius Kimbrough, and standout wide recievers Rodriquez Frazier, Chris Lipscomb and Greg Palmer have combined to lead the Falcons to a 38.5 points per game average while relying on an offense based in balance.
“The coaches have done an outstanding job,” Shaw said. “They’ve done a really good job of utilizing personnel and trying to get the ball to key playmakers and we’ve got those playmakers.
“Last year, we didn’t have a couple of running backs to really give us an advantage, then there’s the emergence of Rod Frazier and Greg Palmer offensively, plus Chris Lipscomb’s gotten better, Imani’s coming up, Darius Kimbrough’s still back and then there’s Daniel (Drummond). I mean, we’ve just got more weapons than we did last year.”
More weapons indeed, but the personality of the offense was a direct result of who Connor Shaw would become.
Following in the footsteps of not only his brother, but a brother who passed for 2,300 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior season was no easy task.
Connor Shaw has managed it fine, however, passing for 1,591 yards and 18 touchdowns while saving his best performance for last week’s 42-21 state playoff win over Stephens County.
In the win, which avenged the Falcons’ Week 1 loss, Shaw passed for 302 yards and five touchdowns to four different receivers.
“I’m just so proud of him,” Lee Shaw said. “He had to battle being Jaybo’s brother and the, “this is what Jaybo has done as a quarterback, what are you going to do?’
“Once he realized he wasn’t Jaybo, he had to be Connor and play the game that Connor can play — then it was a slingshot. He had to mentally accept his role and I think once he did that, he’s been playing lights out.”
And the aforementioned lack of a go-to running back is no longer an issue for the Falcons.
First, there’s Drummond, who despite being hampered by a shoulder injury for the final three games of the season, is the second leading rusher on the team with a 9.8 yards per carry average and seven touchdowns.
“Drummond, he’s the kind of guy you’d like to have on your team,” Connor Shaw said, “especially blocking and with him pounding it out.
“I mean, we saw what he could do against West Hall (245 yards rushing on seven carries and three touchdowns).”
When Drummond went down with the injury in the eighth game of the season against East Hall, his freshman backup Cross came in and the Falcons didn’t miss a beat.
In the last four games, Cross has amassed 453 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
“At first, we really concentrated on a solid run game and I think that’s helped us out in the long run,” said Connor Shaw who is the team’s leading rusher with 751 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. “But we got back to our spread offense later in the season.
“I think being balanced is an advantage.”
A definite advantage for an offense that identity also entails completeness.
“They understand that in this offense, you never know who’s going to be the star that week,” Shaw said. “Because of that kind of football, our team wins.”