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High school football: With next installment of Gainesville vs. Flowery Branch rivalry just days away, former players encouraged to share their stories of these games with The Times
Thomas Sprague
Gainesville's Thomas Sprague blocks the punt at the Flowery Branch goal line during the 2009 Class 3A state semifinals at City Park Stadium in Gainesville. Photo courtesy Sammy Smith.

Gainesville’s Thomas Sprague barrelled through the line, blocking a Flowery Branch punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to help solidified a 29-21 win in the 2009 Class 3A state semifinal game at City Park Stadium. It was a wild back-and-forth matchup with the Red Elephants featuring Blake Sims, who went on a start at Alabama, and the Falcons’ Connor Shaw, who went on to become a legend at the University of South Carolina, quarterbacking their teams in front of an estimated 14,000 fans in Gainesville. 

Gainesville fans left thrilled, after setting up a date against Peach County for the state championship, while Flowery Branch fans left that night disappointed.

Fans were packed in shoulder to shoulder in the bleachers, while others huddled on the hillside by the Gainesville Civic Center. 

It was seasonably cold, but nobody who could get in the gate was going to miss it. 

And this isn’t the only legendary matchup between these two schools, separated by only 13 miles. 

On Friday, Flowery Branch (1-1) will host Gainesville (1-0), in the 16th matchup of this rivalry that dates back to 2002. 

The Red Elephants lead the overall series 10-5, but the Falcons have won in the past two seasons against the Red Elephants. 

Even though there will be a much-reduced crowd this season, due to coronavirus precautions, the fervor remains just as intense between the schools that play in different classifications. 

Flowery Branch also has its fair share of high points in the rivalry. Were you at the 2012 game in Flowery Branch when Gainesville junior quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked late in the fourth quarter, securing the Falcons’ wild 35-34 win against the eventual Class 5A state champions?

The following season Watson, now quarterback of the Houston Texans, returned the favor, guiding the Red Elephants to victory in a 100-point shootout.

Another interesting sidebar to this rivalry is the amount of ridiculously-talented players on both sides. 

At Flowery Branch, Connor Shaw (South Carolina), Jaybo Shaw (Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern), Izaan Cross (Georgia Tech), Imani Cross (Nebraska), Daniel Drummond (Georgia Tech) and Cortez Davis (Hawaii) are just a few who played in the rivalry, only in existence for 18 years. 

At Gainesville, Watson (Clemson), Alexander Johnson (University of Tennessee and now a starter for the Denver Broncos), Sims (Alabama), Thomas Niles (Central Florida), Fred Payne (Western Carolina) and Kendrick Lewis (Mississippi) were also headliners in the thick of some of these games.

The talent runs deep when Gainesville and Flowery Branch face off. 

Expect this year to be no exception. 

Were you a player in one of the these games? 

Times sports editor Bill Murphy would love to hear your account. 

Reach him at or call (770) 718-3415.

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