Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw’s postgame assessment of his Falcons’ play Friday night at East Hall said it best: "We started slow, but finished fast."
Following a scoreless first quarter, Flowery Branch scored six touchdowns over the next two quarters en route to a 42-3 win over East Hall.
"We had a slow start," Shaw said, "but hats off to East Hall. They came out like they did last year, came out in the first quarter and played hard against us. They were so physical.
"But our guys responded and we started getting some things put together and started playing some ball."
The Falcons’ (7-1, 3-0 in Region 7B-AAA) offense was sparked and then carried by freshman running back Imani Cross.
The younger brother of Flowery Branch standout defensive end Izaan Cross came in for an injured Daniel Drummond and rushed his way to 133 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
"It was a coming out party for him," Shaw said. "He had the opportunity to come in and I felt like he did a great job."
"I just wanted to go in and help the team win and do whatever I could," Imani Cross said. "The linemen really helped me out and it turned out to be a great night."
With the win, Flowery Branch remains undefeated and tied atop Region 7B-AAA with Gainesville. A win next week against subregion foe West Forsyth will ensure the Falcons a fourth straight trip to the Class AAA state playoffs.
East Hall’s (1-6, 0-3) got off to a fast and inspired first-quarter start, in which the defense held Flowery Branch to 12 yards rushing, one first down and 1 yard passing. The Vikings were able to get on the scoreboard first early in the second quarter.
Junior running back Corey Richardson broke a 30-yard run to take the Vikings down to the 5-yard line. They managed to get only a field goal out of the drive, however, thanks to the play of Izaan Cross. The senior defensive lineman, who forced a fumble and recovered it in the first quarter, hit East Hall running back Marcellous Moon in the backfield on third-and-goal with the Vikings threatening inside the 1-yard line.
That led to a field goal attempt by Chrisel Flores, who converted from 22 yards out for a 3-0 lead.
With East Hall up three early in the second quarter and the momentum in its favor, the Falcons needed a spark and Imani Cross gave it to them.
On the Falcons’ first possession of the second quarter, he capped a six-play, 75-yard drive with his first score of the game, a 46-yard touchdown run.
Six seconds later, Flowery Branch would make it 14-3.
After Billy Thompson booted the first of four straight kickoffs into the end zone, Falcons’ senior defensive lineman Ben Clark picked up a fumble on East Hall’s first play of its ensuing drive and scampered 20-yards for his first career touchdown.
"That was just awesome," Shaw said. "Those defensive and offensive lineman live for that. Ben was able to scoop and score and towards the end of the season, I think plays like that just give us an extra burst of energy and motivate our team."
Motivate indeed, as Flowery Branch went on to score one more touchdown in the second quarter, a 12-yard pass from Connor Shaw to Chris Lipscomb, and three in the third on its way to the win.
The Falcons’ 42-point effort gives them a 43-point per game average over the last four games.
"We are going to go back to work (to ensure a slow start doesn’t happen again)," Shaw said. "I don’t know if they were overlooking East Hall or if it’s simply that East Hall came out and played well at the get go.
"We’ve been playing at a high level so maybe this was our step back."
The Falcons scored on their first possession of the second half when Imani Cross ended an eight-play, 56-yard drive with a 13-yard run.
The freshman showed his strength on his second score, breaking four tackles and dragging an East Hall defender into the end zone.
"Having a performance like this feels great," Imani Cross said. "But the thing that matter most to me is having the team win, that’s the greatest thing."
"I’m proud of the way (Imani) responded," Shaw said. "He’s been running the ball hard in practice for the last two to three weeks and he responded when he had to. That was very crucial for us."
Flowery Branch’s final two scores would come via a 45-yard run by Connor Shaw and an 8-yard run by backup quarterback Kyle Famiano.
Connor Shaw finished the game as the team’s second leading rusher with 59 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and was 3-for-6 passing for 31 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons return to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they play host to West Forsyth. East Hall next plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Johnson.