Flowery Branch vs. Ridgeland
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight
Where: Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.
On radio: 550-AM
Directions: From Flowery Branch, take Hwy. 53 west to Calhoun and take Interstate-75 North to Chattanooga, Tenn. Take Interstate-24 split west and exit at Market Street onto US-27. From US-27, take exit 1A-Martin Luther King Jr. into downtown. Take a right at the fork onto West Martin Luther King Blvd, and then a right onto Carter Street. The stadium is on the left.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Consider this a swan song for Flowery Branch’s football program.
The Falcons will be playing their final games as a member of Class AAA in this year’s postseason. That was made official when the projected enrollment numbers came out this week and re-classified Flowery Branch as a Class AAAA school beginning next year.
But before the Falcons say farewell to this classification and members of Region 7-AAA, they want to leave everyone with one final lasting impression.
“We know this is our last run in Class AAA, and we just want to finish it out strong,” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said.
Flowery Branch’s road in the playoffs opens with a trip to face Ridgeland (9-1) in the first round at 7:30 tonight at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.
This game is a re-match of a second-round playoff game from last season, which was won 21-14 by the Falcons on a last-minute touchdown.
The most interesting storyline to follow with regards to the Falcons is whether they can continue their stellar road play in the postseason.
Last year Flowery Branch earned the label of ‘Road Warriors’ for winning four-straight road playoff games as a No. 3 seed and advancing all the way to the state title game.
Do they have that kind of magic in the bag again this season?
“I think we’re ready for the playoffs,” Flowery Branch senior Austin Todd said. “Hopefully it can go the same way as it did last year for us.”
Whether they can make it five weeks deep in the playoffs is merely something that can be debated at this point. There’s 32 playoff teams in Class AAA that are going to fight it out for the two prized spots in the state title game.
However, what isn’t debatable is the fact that Flowery Branch is battle tested.
The Falcons faced all three of the other playoff qualifiers from Region 7-AAA (Gainesville, Creekview and North Hall) as well as played in a game that went down to the wire with West Forsyth that decided the second playoff spot from the South subregion.
“We played all the toughies in the region,” Shaw said.
While Flowery Branch didn’t fair as well as it would have hoped against the three other playoff schools — losing all three — it wasn’t as cut and dry as the results indicated.
The Falcons lost to Creekview and North Hall by three points each, and found a way to stay in the fight last week against the Red Elephants, despite falling behind by 35 in the first half.
“I’m very proud of the effort our team has given,” Shaw said. “They’ve managed to respond and battle all season.”
Now the prize for Flowery Branch is a fifth-straight trip to the playoffs. In fact, this is the Falcons’ second consecutive senior class that has made it to the postseason each season while in high school. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment seeing the school came into existence just eight years ago.
In their time in the Hall County-heavy region, Flowery Branch has been a big part of building Region 7-AAA’s reputation from that of being average talent-wise to where it is now as arguably one of the best Class AAA regions in the state.
“I feel like Region 7-AAA is probably the hardest region in the state, even though there are some good schools outside our region,” said junior defensive end Jeremiah Words. “Playing the schedule we have should prepare us for the playoffs.”
The game’s location was changed earlier this week for fear of poor field conditions at Rigdeland’s field in Rossville. The driving distance to downtown Chattanooga is only about five miles, so shouldn’t have any impact on travel or creating any unfair advantage for either squad, says Shaw.
Finley Stadium is home of the FCS, formerly Division I-AA, national title game. The stadium seats 20,600.