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High school football notebook: State semifinals take historical turn
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Tickets for Friday night’s Class AAA state semifinal matchup between top-ranked Gainesville and Flowery Branch will go on sale at both schools Monday at 10 a.m. For Gainesville, season ticket holders can pick up their tickets for Friday night's game from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Wednesday  in the main lobby of Gainesville High School. General admission tickets will be available beginning Thursday at 10 a.m. For Flowery Branch fans, tickets can by purcased from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday in the main office at Flowery Branch High. Tickets cost $10. Also, Gainesville High will have a tailgate catered by Johnny’s BBQ from 5-7 p.m. Friday night in the Green Street Pool Parking Lot. The customary Elephant Walk will begin at 6 p.m.

In 1959 Johnson and East Hall met twice in the regular season with the Knights winning both.

In 1995, East Hall and West Hall met twice — once in the regular season and once in the first round of the region playoffs — with the Spartans winning both the Sept. and Nov. meetings.

Friday night, on Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park, Gainesville and Flowery Branch will join the Vikings, Knights and Spartans in the history books as only the third pairing of Hall County teams to face each other twice in a season.

It should go without saying, however, that this game is just a little different.

Since Region 7-AAA’s inception, no two teams from the region have faced off in the state playoffs. To put it in greater perspective, since football’s inception in Hall County, no two teams from the county have faced off in the state playoffs, much less the state semifinals.

Friday’s game marks the second straight trip to the state’s round of four for the Falcons. Oddly enough, the only other team from Hall County to make back-to-back trips to the state semifinals is Gainesville.

The Red Elephants, under the guidance of Graham Hixon, played Rossville in the state semifinals three straight years (1959, 1960 and 1961) losing twice. The one year they beat Rossville — a 12-0 win in 1960 — they lost in the state finals to Waycross 49-0.

From 1968-1970, with its homefield’s namesake at the helm, Gainesville made three straight appearances in the state semifinals again, playing for the state title in both 1968 and 1969 losing to St. Pius X and North Springs respectively.

The Red Elephants tri-appearance tradition continued in the 80s when, from 1981-1983, Gainesville again played in the state semifinals losing to Columbia in 1981, beating Dalton in 1982 — Big Red lost to Bainbridge 7-6 in the state finals — and losing to Marist in 1983.

CLUTCH CONNECTION: Flowery Branch has proven time and time again over the course of the last two seasons that a game isn’t over until it’s over — especially in the playoffs.

A key component to the Falcons knack for making plays in crunchtime has been the connection between quarterback Connor Shaw and wide receiver Robby Boudreau.

In the second round of the 2008 state playoffs, the Shaw to Boudreau hookup saved Flowery Branch’s season when with 52 seconds remaining in the Falcons game against Ridgeland, Shaw hit Boudreau in the back of the end zone from 17-yards out for the winning touchdown.

Against West Forsyth on Oct. 23, trailing 51-47 with less than a minute to play, the Falcons were backed up into a fourth-and-20 at the Wolverines’ 42-yard line.

And once again, Shaw found Boudreau at the right time taking a snap on fourth down, scrambling and firing downfield to Boudreau, who hauled in the catch just inside the 20 and took off untouched for the end zone, giving the Falcons a lead with 49 seconds left, a win and a state playoff berth.

And again, last Friday night against Carver-Columbus in the Class AAA state quarterfinals, Shaw and Boudreau came through.
On fourth-and-5 with just under seven minutes left and the score 33-28, it again looked like the Falcons’ season was over. But Robbie Boudreau, on his back after being tackled, caught a 6-yard pass from Shaw who was hit as he threw.

And then finally, on fourth-and-8 from the Carver 26-yard line with less than a minute to play and the Falcons down by five, Shaw found Boudreau at the 1-yard line for another clutch first down to set up the game-winning score.

TEAM ON THE RUN: Class AAA’s No. 1-ranked Red Elephants aren’t averaging 45.2 points per game this season by being a run-first team.

Quarterback Blake Sims hasn’t passed for 2,010 yards and 27 touchdowns because his team has a run-first offense, however, when it comes to playoff football schemes and teams change and Gainesville is no different.

The Red Elephants offense hasn’t taken a downturn, despite averaging just under a touchdown less during the playoffs than in the regular season, they’re just doing things a little differently.

In three playoffs games thus far, Gainesville has run 89 rushing plays to just 42 passing plays.

They changed hasn’t changed them much — they are beating playoff opponents by an average of 28.6 points — and that’s mainly because of senior running back Teryan Rucker.

Rucker is averaging 11.28 yards per carry in the playoffs and in last Friday’s game against defending state champion Cairo had his best outing of the playoffs, rushing 14 times for 161 yards and a touchdown (82 yards).

All told, Rucker has 25 carries for 282 yards in three playoff wins for Gainesville and could be the key to a the team’s state title run — no pun intended.

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