Tickets on sale
Flowery Branch vs. Cairo
Tickets for the Class AAA state championship game between Flowery Branch and Cairo are on sale at Flowery Branch High School from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday. Pre-sell tickets are $15 (cash only). Tickets at the gate will be $20. Kickoff for Saturday’s state title game is 5 p.m.
Flowery Branch is asking its fans to help line Hog Mountain Road and Spout Springs Road with signs and banners all the way to Interstate 985 for players to see on their way to the state title at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. The team will depart Flowery Branch at 12:30 p.m.
GPTV to broadcast state title games
Georgia Public Broadcasting will broadcast the GHSA state championship football games. Buford’s Class AA state championship game against Calhoun will air at 5 p.m. Friday. Flowery Branch’s Class AAA state championship game against Cairo will air at 5 p.m. Saturday. Both games will air on Charter channel 8.
Additionally, each game will be broadcasted live at www.gpb.org/football.
For more information, visit GPB’s Web site at www.gpb.org.
The Falcons have risen to regional prominence, reaching the playoffs each of the last four seasons. And with a four-game road winning streak in hand, they're on the verge of becoming one of the most surprising state champions in recent memory, and Hall County's first GHSA state champs.
But as the pair of assistant coaches will tell you, there were plenty of bad times, too. They've been there with head coach Lee Shaw since Flowery Branch opened its doors in 2002.
"I'm telling you, those first few years were rough," said Griffin, who began as the school's linebackers coach before taking over his current post as defensive coordinator in 2003. "They were tough, because we were fairly successful at my school in South Carolina, and I'd played in a successful program in high school. Then, coming here the first day when we saw the kids we had to work with, it made you scratch your head a little bit. It was tough."
That first group of Falcons featured only two seniors on the 44-player roster. In their first season, jumping right into a GHSA region schedule, Flowery Branch finished without a win.
A winless, 0-10 record looks bad enough on paper. It's even worse to live on a week-to-week basis.
It was hard on the coaches and it was hard on their families, Shaw said.
"Behind every good coach is a better woman, so I have to thank their wives and their families too, for being the backbone and believing in what we're doing."
Conley, who has held the offensive coordinator position since the school opened, agreed.
"It was frustrating at times," he said. "But especially with (myself, Shaw and Griffin), and those guys that were with us at that time, it was almost a driving force. Because we knew if we just kept on and kept on and kept on, that the wins would come."
And when the finally wins came, they came in bunches.
The Falcons went 4-6 in 2003, then 2-8 in 2004. Their breakthrough came in 2005, with an 11-2 season and a trip to the Class AAA state quarterfinals. It was the most successful season in school history until this year.
Flowery Branch has been in the playoffs ever since.
Though it wasn't easy - especially because it wasn't easy - Shaw said he couldn't be more thankful that the pair has stuck with him from the beginning.
"I can say that coach Griffin and coach Conley are about as loyal of coaches and friends as you could have," Shaw said. "They're like family to me. We've been through so much, and they've sacrificed so much for us. They've had other opportunities to go other places, probably for more money, and especially early on, for more notoriety. But they've stuck with us because they believe in Flowery Branch."
Through it all they've adjusted with the times and with their personnel. Both Shaw and Conley are triple-option true believers, and made their first trip to the playoffs running the double slot offense, similar to the one Paul Johnson uses these days at Georgia Tech, where Shaw's oldest son Jaybo is the backup quarterback as a freshman.
But a trip to Dougherty in the 2005 playoffs made both coaches see the need for a new offensive dimension.
"They were able to walk everybody up," Conley said of Dougherty. "So we felt like we had to come up with something that allows us to weather that type of defense."
The result is an offense the Falcons still favor today - a little bit of Tony Franklin's spread offense passing schemes, mixed in with a good dose of option offensive principles. That, along the right personnel to make it work, has helped propel Flowery Branch to the heights they're currently enjoying. Griffin, whose defense posted its first shutout of the seaon in a 28-0 win over LaGrange last week, said they've planned to be here all along.
"We've always preached from the very beginning that we're here to win a state championship," he said. "We're not here just to win a few games and be competitive. We've preached from Day 1 that we had very high expectations. We knew we weren't going to win much early. But it didn't take long to mature."
In microcosm, the growth the 2008 team has almost mirrored the progress the program has made under Shaw, Conley and Griffin.
The season began with a loss, and early on the Falcons struggled somewhat to find their footing. Still, they kept winning until a regular season-ending loss to Gainesville that cost Flowery Branch its first region title.
But that speed bump barely slowed the Falcons, who've taken to the road for four straight wins over top-notch competition in the playoffs.
"That's what makes it special now," Conley said, referring back to the losing seasons early in the program's brief history. "I don't want to speak for other guys, but for me, it's special that we were able to weather that and then kind of reap the benefits, too. A lot of times coaches don't get to do that."
They've come a long way from the group that helped each other pick up rocks off the school's practice field in the early days, but right now, they're not thinking about the journey. The destination is still ahead.
"To say that it's been a playoff run, it really has been," Griffin said. "It's something that when it's all done, I think we'll be able to appreciate. At this point, every day we're just focusing on what we've got to do that day."