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Falcons step up on the road, win 17-14
Defensive stops lift Flowery Branch over Ridgeland; Grady is next
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CHATTANOOGA — Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw had one question for his team prior to the start of Friday night’s game against Region 6-AAA champion Ridgeland: Do you want it to be over?

From the Falcons defensive effort, to the kicking game, to the running of Imani Cross, to the 17-14 final score, the team’s answer was clear: They did not.

"I challenged this team all week and they stepped up," Shaw said.

The Falcons advance to play Grady in the second round next weekend in Atlanta.

The defense first and foremost as the unit not only accounted for the team’s first score — on a blocked punt by Billy Thompson that was recovered in the end zone by Cory Sanderson — but held the Panthers scoreless on five of their seven drives.

"They made plays," Shaw said. "They played hard and fast.

"I will take that kind of production offensively any day if we continue to play defense like that."

In the kicking game, Will Monday not only converted a field goal and both point-after attempts, but managed to ensure that run-first Ridgeland started four of its seven drives from the 20-yard line. He also averaged 60 yards a punt.

Flowery Branch started its scoring with Monday’s 27-yard field goal six minutes into the game after the defense held Ridgeland scoreless on a 10-minute, 66-yard drive.

The ensuing possession resulted in the Falcons’ blocked punt and the first touchdown on the board with six minutes remaining in the first half.

Ridgeland responded immediately with a three-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 77-yard run by Deonte Marsh with three minutes left in the first half.

Marsh accounted for both of Ridgeland’s touchdowns, rushed for 99 yards on five carries and was its top receiver with 89 yards on two catches.

With the score 10-7 at the half, Shaw had a conversation that prolonged his team’s season.

"Coach saw their weakness and said to me, ‘You’ve got to put the team on your back,’" sophomore running back Imani Cross said. "That’s what I worked hard to do in the second half.

"I didn’t want it to be over."

Though Cross didn’t score a touchdown, he was responsible for the Falcons milking the clock in the second half carrying the ball 18 times for 80 yards.

"We knew we needed to control time of possession," said Shaw of his team, which held the ball for more than 14 minutes in the second half. "Our guys did a great job of battling and wound up winning against a great team.

"I told Imani (Cross) that we’re going to feed the ball to him and play smashmouth football and, boy, did he and the offensive line — which by the way played the best I’ve seen all season — come through."

Cross finished with 113 yards rushing to lead the team.

Quarterback Connor Shaw finished 14-of-17 passing for 106 yards and one touchdown — a 3-yard pass to Rodney Young in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons a lead they would not relinquish — and 35 yards rushing. Darius Kimbrough was the leading receiver for the Falcons, finishing with six receptions for 45 yards.

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