Last Friday, we saw a great state semifinal game between Gainesville and Flowery Branch. I suspected that Gainesville would win, but I knew it would be much closer than the 49-17 game which Gainesville won over the Falcons in the last week of the regular season.
Several times in my life I was in both Gainesville coach Bruce Miller’s and Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw’s shoes. It eats at the coach who has lost.
He plays the game over in his mind, and he and his staff study harder, the players are more focused in meetings and pay closer attention to detail. They find every mistake and correct it, they change their game plan, and they already know what does not work.
They come on the field Friday night ready to “kick butt and take names.” It is most difficult for a team which has won by 32 points in the first game to remember how hard they played to win by that amount of points.
They can’t picture a tough competitive game, because the first win in retrospect seemed so easy. If you won 49-17 the first time, you expect to do it again.
However, you are not really playing the same team, you are playing a more mature team with a better game plan, and in the case of the game we saw last Friday at City Park, a team from Flowery Branch which was superbly prepared to fight you right down to the last second.
Gainesville had not been forced to play a game like that all season. Flowery Branch had many times already. The Falcons learned from close losses to Creekview, 38-35, North Hall, 37-34, and then beating West Forsyth, 54-51, Ridgeland, 17-14, and Carver-Columbus, 35-33.
Gainesville was losing 14-0 at halftime and had thrown three interceptions. Real champions need to fight their way out of a hole and the Falcons had put them in one. Blake Sims led a determined team on the field for the second half and Sims started the second half with a 96-yard kickoff return for a score, his first of the season.
The fourth quarter started with the Falcons leading 21-7. Gainesville’s Tyson Smith helped bring his team within one touchdown, scoring on a 1-yard run with 7:39 left in the game. Gainesville finally tied the game up by blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown with four minutes still left to play.
The Falcons made sure the team representing Northeast Georgia in the state title game for Class AAA is mentally tough enough to fight themselves out of a hole against a fine football team like Peach County.
Gainesville vs. Peach County
GAINESVILLE (14-0): Power Rating 4.88, Average points scored 44: Average points allowed 9. Gainesville’s 13 opponents have included six playoff teams and had a combined 71-71 record.
The Red Elephants badly needed a game where every play in 48 minutes of football counted and they finally played one last Friday night against The Branch.
In all probability, Gainesville may be playing another one of those games Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
The Red Elephants have a significantly better power rating than their state title game opponent — Peach County. Gainesville has outscored its 14 previous opponents this season by almost a 5-to-1 ratio.
The one area of last Friday’s game where the Red Elephants had a significant advantage was running the ball and defending the run.
Gainesville’s offense averaged 7.2 yards per rush and held Flowery Branch to 3.8 per carry.
Both teams played great pass defense. Flowery Branch completed 67 percent of its passes and averaged 4.9 yards per attempt in the semifinals. Gainesville completed 39 percent of its passes, while throwing three interceptions in the first half against the Falcons. However, with 18 seconds to play Sims’ touchdown pass to Smith was the margin of victory.
Let me say one more thing about the Flowery Branch game, it’s a shame anybody had to lose.
I would have been most proud of my son if he would have played for either team in the terrific effort I saw put out by both teams.
Now that we’re at the state finals, the stats would suggest that Gainesville has played better both on offense and defense than Peach County, but the Trojans appear to have played a tougher schedule. All things considered, it looks like a pretty even match to me.
PEACH COUNTY (14-0): Power Rating 3.27, Average Points Scored 32.42, Average Points Allowed 9.92. Peach County’s 14 opponents included six playoff teams. The Trojans’ 14 opponents have a collective 81-65 record (Peach County’s playoff opponents had significantly better records than Gainesville’s playoff opponents).
Impressive wins for the Trojans this year included a 17-7 win over Baldwin in Week 3, and then Peach County defeated last year’s state champion Cairo 24-13 in Week 6 of the regular season.
In the state quarterfinals, Peach County defeated a very impressive St. Pius X team 21-14 in overtime. The Golden Lions had knocked North Hall out of the playoffs, 17-3, in the second round.
Chuck Clausen is a Hall County resident who coached high school, college and professional football for 28 years. His Power Ratings column appears each Thursday during high school football season.