ATLANTA – Flowery Branch’s football team was hoping to catch lightning in a bottle one more time during its incredible postseason run. Unfortunately for the Falcons (12-3), it was a steady, ball-control ground attack from Cairo that proved too much to overcome in Saturday’s Class AAA state title game at the Georgia Dome.
The Syrupmakers (14-0) rushed for 252 yards, and two second half touchdowns to take home the state title with a 28-14 win over Flowery Branch. Cairo’s win denied Flowery Branch, and all of the Hall County its first GHSA state championship in football.
“Our kids came down here focused and didn’t get intimidated by Cairo or playing in the Georgia Dome, they just battled,” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. “We just came up on the losing end of it tonight. “But I am so proud of this team, our community and the wonderful support we had all season in general … it’s been an awesome ride.”
Flowery Branch was hoping for more of the second-half moxie that proved the catalyst to its run to the state title game. The Falcons made a name for themselves with impressive second-half victories, and a great running game, in the last two rounds against Baldwin and LaGrange.
But Cairo had the answer with a defense that held Flowery Branch to only 67 rushing yards and 121 passing yards. That fell right in line with the Syrupmakers’ defense that allowed only 82 yards per game rushing leading up to the state final.
Trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, the Falcons started to sustain a solid running drive, but a snap over quarterback Connor Shaw’s head brought an end to it quickly.
“Defensively, they were the best we’ve seen,” Shaw said. “It seems like when we did get a little momentum going, and then we had a botched snap that made it hard to catch back up.”
Just after Cairo put a hold on Flowery Branch’s running game, it started to find its own. Syrupmakers senior quarterback Angelo Pease ran for a 78-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive to give them a 14-6 lead. Pease finished with 102 rushing yards and 75 passing yards and two touchdowns throwing.
“We knew Cairo was going to be able to score,” Shaw added. “We just tried to be able to score one more than they did.”
Flowery Branch tied it at 14-14 on the next drive with a 72 yard touchdown throw from Shaw to senior wide receiver Chris Lipscomb and a 2-point conversion pass from Shaw to Rod Frazier.
After that drive, the Syrupmakers held the Falcons without another first down.
“Flowery Branch came out with a good game plan and executed it,” Cairo coach Tom Fallaw said. “Our defense started to bend, but didn’t break.”
Cairo managed put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter with a running game that started churning out first downs. Syrupmakers senior running back Reginald Bryant scored on a 2-yard run with 2:32 left to play for the game’s final score, assuring the school its first state title since 1990.
Bryant finished as Cairo’s leading rusher with 132 yards.
Pease’s two touchdown passes came on a 17-yard throw to James Wilcox and a 19-yard throw to Dewayne Isom.
Flowery Branch scored on 21- and 44-yard field goals from Billy Thompson in the first half.
Shaw knows that this season is one nobody at Flowery Branch will soon forget. The Falcons set a new school-record with 12 wins, and also produced their first trip to the state semifinals and state finals in the school’s seven-year history.
“Hopefully we set the standard high enough that these younger guys will follow in the footsteps of what this senior class did,” Shaw added. “This senior class left a legacy.”