Class AAA state semifinals
Flowery Branch at LaGrange
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Callaway Stadium, LaGrange
The 2008 season has already been a roller coaster of sorts for Flowery Branch — from the low of the opening night loss at Stephens County, to the high of the eight-game winning streak that followed, to the momentary dip that was the loss to Gainesville in the final week of the regular season. Now, after returning to Stephens County to start a new winning streak, the Falcons are peaking just in time for trip to LaGrange. Coach Lee Shaw, who has guided the program since its 0-10 beginning in 2002, spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway on Tuesday about the atmosphere around his team this week, preparing for the first trip to the semifinals in school history, and what it is that stands out about the traditionally tough Grangers.
Question: What’s the mood of your team like as you head into the weekend? Is it business-like or more relaxed?
Answer: Well, it’s very exciting, but this team is kind of loose. Every team has its own identity and every team is different. We’ve had teams here in the past that were more business-like, and especially during the playoffs would be more locked in and really focused. But this group stays pretty loose most of the time. They cut-up and have a good time, but they know when it’s time to get down to business, too.
Q: What’s the reaction been like around the school and within the community?
A: During this whole playoff run in general it’s almost like everybody is there with us every step of the way. It seems like the whole town must shut down and show up to support us. And at school, it’s almost like every school day is a playoff game day, and then Friday of course will be electric. This whole season, the students, the adminstration and everybody has been so supportive, but now it’s almost like you can feel the buzz around the school.
Q: Tell me about your preparation for this game. Is your philosophy to treat it like any other game or do you recognize its significance?
A: You’d like to say that you treat every game just the same, but that’s not the way it is. The kids know it’s not like every other game and you can’t trick them. But our philosophy is this: you don’t change what you do in practice. We’ve had the same practice schedule all year long and we’re not going to change that. Install day is still install day, Tuesdays are still longer, Wednesday is still team day, and Thursdays are situational shells. But we also know that the longer you play, the harder it gets, and of course we’re aware of that.
Q: LaGrange is traditionally a strong team defensively and appears to be again this year. What are their strengths from what you’ve been able to see of them?
A: They are great defensively. That’s a point of emphasis for them and they’ve got some real athletes on that side of the ball, probably more than on offense, but they can still score and do all the things to you offensively that they’ve been able to do in the past. But the tradition at LaGrange has been to play great defense, and that’s what they do. That’s the strength of the team. They’re an eight-man front and they’re kind of like Virginia Tech in a lot of ways in that they have a free safety playing about eight yards off the ball that they use almost like a Will linebacker. They’re very aggressive with him and get him involved in a lot of different blitzes and other things they do.
Q: They do a lot of stunting and blitzing on defense. What can you do to get your team ready for that?
A: Well, we do a lot of passing drills against a pass rush and other things. We just try to mimic the look as close as we can, but we can’t mimic the speed we’ll see Friday.