A possible champion versus a proven champion.
Class AAA sixth-ranked Flowery Branch has the athleticism and depth needed to make a run at its first region title. Stephens County, the 10th-ranked team in Class AAA, is looking for its fourth straight region championship.
“This is a comparison game,” senior defensive end Izaan Cross said. “It’s going to be a good game that will make us see how really good we are or could be.”
Both teams come into tonight’s matchup looking to answer questions left by graduation.
Stephens County lost leading rusher Tauren Poole, who is now at the University of Tennessee, and starting quarterback Ethan Martin, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in this year’s Major League Baseball draft.
The two accounted for over 2,600 yards of total offense and 35 touchdowns in 2007.
“Stephens is always a strong team,” said first-year starting quarterback Connor Shaw. “They bounce back no matter what, no matter who they graduate.”
Dacen Cash, who passed for 114 yards and one touchdown in 2007 will take over for Martin, while Hart County transfer Ren Teasley, who led the Bulldogs in rushing in 2006 and 2007, will be looked at to carry the ball for the Indians.
Except in tonight’s game.
Teasley, along with Stephens County’s leading receiver and tackler in 2007, Kadaryl Burtch, are injured and will not play in tonight’s game.
The Falcons are also looking to fill an offensive void, their’s left by four-year starting quarterback and the team’s leading rusher and passer, Jaybo Shaw.
“I have a little pressure on me with it being my first time starting at quarterback,” Connor Shaw said. “But I’m not letting it get to me and I’m looking forward to taking on the role.”
With the younger Shaw under center and running his team’s multiple spread option, the Falcons have a new-look offense.
Jaybo Shaw was the decision maker on the field and the offense revolved around his ability to pass and run. This year’s offense will be a balanced, run-first attack centered around the likes of Darius Kimbrough, Preston Bostic, Daniel Drummond and Connor Shaw.
“Last year we had strictly a pass offense because we hadn’t established a run game,” Connor Shaw said. “This year we’re real balanced. We have a great run game and receivers that will catch some balls. I am looking forward to it.”
When the Falcons do take to the air, coach Lee Shaw has little doubt that his new quarterback will make the right decisions.
“He’s poised,” coach Shaw said. “With him being a two-year starter at receiver and our go-to guy the last two years he’s experienced the fire on Friday nights. He’ll be ready to go.”
And, according to coach Shaw, Stephens County will be ready for his team.
“Stephens County will be a very well-coached team and they’ll get after it,” the Falcons coach said. “We know they’ll be a good football team, and they’ll come out and hit us.”
“They’re a very physical team,” Cross said, “and have big offensive and defensive lines.”
Shaw is hoping his defense, the team’s strength according to him, will hit right back.
Led by defensive ends Cross and Drummond, and a strong secondary anchored by Greg Palmer and Rodriquez Frazier, the Falcons are looking to stop Stephens County no matter who is running the ball.
“We are expecting big things from our defense,” Cross, a captain, said. “We are a lot bigger than we were last year and a lot faster and stronger. Really every aspect of our defense is better in every aspect this year.
“It’s important, being a leader, that I talk my guys up and let them know how important this game is. This team is ranked and we need to win.”
The Falcons will start a total of 12 seniors tonight.
“Our seniors will have to step up,” coach Shaw said. “We’ll go as far as they will take us.”