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Flowery Branch football team knocking on history's door
Flowery Branch quarterback Connor Shaw throws the ball during practice Wednesday. Flowery Branch takes on Baldwin in Milledgeville on Friday in the third round of the Class AAA playoffs. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
When the past is not learned from, it gives cause for history to repeat itself.

Even in high school football.

A Flowery Branch loss to Stephens County in the first game of the season led to a 42-21 Falcons’ rout of the Indians in the first round of the playoffs.

And now, the No. 9 Falcons (10-2) are hoping they learned just enough from their last chance to make program history, to succeed in doing so this time around.

“We’re focused and excited,” said defensive end Izaan Cross about his team’s state quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 Baldwin on Friday in Milledgeville. “It’s like a couple of weeks ago we had a chance to make history in the region championship game (against Gainesville), and we are looking at this game like that.

“It’s another chance to do something we’ve never done.”

A state quarterfinals berth isn’t unchartered territory for the Flowery Branch program, it lost 42-3 to Dougherty in quarterfinals of the 2005 playoffs.

But moving beyond is.

“There’s people that go through their whole high school career and coaching career and never get to this point,” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. “So we’ve been fortunate and blessed.

“I think this team’s excited about the possibilities of going to Round 4 though, and doing something that’s never been done.”

Possibility being the operative word, however, as the Falcons’ face the daunting task of beating an undefeated Baldwin (12-0) team that has a defense giving up only four points per game.

“I don’t know if they have any weaknesses defensively,” Shaw said. “They’re scary good on defense, very fast.

“They’re ranked No. 2 in the state for a reason.”

Led by 6-foot, 220-pound all-state middle linebacker, and Clemson verbal commit, Corico Hawkins (11 tackles and one sack in last week’s 29-19 win over Shaw), the speedy Braves defense has five shutouts on the season and has given up more than a touchdown only twice.

They also have the ability to put up points as evidenced by the Braves first round 28-3 win over Eagles Landing in Round 1, in which the defense accounted for three fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“They’re going to come after us,” Shaw said. “This will by far be the fastest, most athletic team we have played against and, as coaches, we’ve got to do a good job to find and exploit their weaknesses as the game progresses.”

Working in Flowery Branch’s favor is offensive balance, a quality Baldwin isn’t that familiar with.

The Braves, out of Region 3-AAA where they faced the likes of Washington County and Thomson, have according to Shaw seen teams that predominately run out of an I formation or work out of the spread in an effort to get the quarterback space to run.

A stark contrast to the spread run by quarterback Connor Shaw (1,764 yards passing and 20 touchdowns on the season) who was 12-of-17 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 21-14 win over Ridgeland.

“They (the teams Baldwin has faced) don’t throw it,” Shaw said. “I don’t think they’ve seen a team that can throw well out of the spread but also go up under center and get something done.”

That said, the Falcons, which are averaging 33.5 points per game, haven’t faced a defense with the speed the Braves will bring.

“Ridgeland’s as fast a team as any team we’ve seen,” Shaw said. “But I think Baldwin’s faster.”

The Falcons defense, which is currently giving up 13 points per game, will have to contend with running back Jerrico Ford, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2007 but has been hobbled by a bad ankle for much of this season.

“If he gets loose I don’t know that there’s anybody that can catch him,” Shaw said.

“We know we have to contain No. 3 (Ford),” said Falcons senior linebacker David DeLeon. “We can’t let him get outside in open room because we hear he’s pretty good.

“If we stop that and are good on all cylinders, which I think we are, then we should be good.”

The Braves, averaging 23.4 points per game, will work out of an I formation with a freshman quarterback in Roshaun Miline at the helm.

“We’ve just got to swarm to the ball,” Shaw said. “We’ve got to play that style of defense. There’s nothing tricky about their offense, but they have speed.”

Speed that the Falcons’ defense is ready and willing to contend with.

“They’re a pretty good team,” Cross said. “But everybody made it to the third round for a reason.”
And for the Falcons, in the spirit of history not repeating itself, they’re hoping the reason they’re in the third round will be reason enough to continue on.

“Their goal is to win a state championship here,” Shaw said of his team. “That’s the goal, and we’re still climbing to get that.”
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