ATLANTA — Rocky, the 1976 Oscar winner for best picture, may be the best underdog tale in American storytelling history. It stands up against any short story or novel the most well-read literature scholar can find.
Peculiar thing about that story, though. The hero didn’t win.
Of course, he was never supposed to. The odds were too long, the opponent too great.
But with grit and determination, he maximized the talent he had and gave the champ 15 rounds worth of blood and guts.
In the end, it didn’t matter that he lost. It was almost secondary. What mattered was the struggle to get there, and once there, to prove he belonged.
Watching Flowery Branch go down swinging in the Class AAA state championship game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome brought the film to mind.
The Falcons more than proved they belonged on Georgia high school football’s biggest stage in a 28-14 loss to favored Cairo.
Right now, that might not soothe the feelings of the Falcons players, coaches and fans; not while the emotions are still so raw. Not while the faces are still long and the tears not yet dry. Not so soon after the curtain has fallen on a season, and in many cases, a football career.
Hopefully, though, one day it will.
The Syrupmakers, with 28 seniors, were back in the state championship game for the second straight year. They hadn’t lost since that game, and had been ranked at or near the top of Class AAA since the 2008 season began.
Flowery Branch wasn’t even supposed to be in this fight. And unlike Rocky’s title character, the Falcons didn’t get their shot by random chance. They earned it by going on the road four weeks in a row, knocking off higher-seeded teams every step of the way.
Saturday night, the Falcons landed the first punches, then kept their feet, even as Cairo came back to take a 14-6 lead in the third quarter, putting Flowery Branch on the ropes.
The Falcons came right back when Connor Shaw let loose a haymaker of a 72-yard touchdown pass to Chris Lipscomb that put the Syrupmakers on their heels.
That pass, by the way, which found Lipscomb in stride about 55 yards from where it was
released, was as pretty as any that’s been thrown in the Georgia Dome this year and plenty of others.
But Cairo wouldn’t stay down. They took a 21-14 lead with 8:15 remaining in the fourth quarter and sealed it with another score with 2:32 left.
Flowery Branch answered the bell every time, making the champs go the distance. But in the end, the Falcons didn’t have enough to knock out a better opponent.
Still, their fight made you cheer, earned your respect. It united a community bigger than the town of Flowery Branch.
As the first time since 1982 that a team from Hall County had played in the state championship, it was a season for the history books, if not the story books.
But even though it ended in defeat, it was a fight worthy of sequel.