Flowery Branch at West Forsyth
When: 7:30 tonight
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; West Forsyth, Frank Hepler
Records: Flowery Branch (6-2, 3-0 Region 7B-AAA); West Forsyth (4-3, 2-1 Region)
Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Connor Shaw (6-2, 200 Sr.), RB Imani Cross (6-1, 218 So.), WR/DB Rodney Young (6-0, 185 Sr.). West Forsyth, RB Ben Emert (6-1, 230 Sr.), WR Ethan Shirley (6-0, 180 Jr.), OL Jeff Sayer (6-3, 250 Sr.).
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. If the Falcons can stop the run, their offensive weapons will do just enough to escape with a win.
The Blitz: Your source for high school football
FLOWERY BRANCH — The playoffs are exactly a month away, but for the Flowery Branch Falcons, the postseason begins tonight in Cumming against West Forsyth.
“This is a playoff for us,” Falcons coach Lee Shaw said Thursday. “It’s kind of do or die, much like it was last year.”
In 2008, the Falcons (6-2, 3-0 Region 7B-AAA) took care of business, handing the Wolverines (4-3, 2-1) a 42-16 beating that Shaw said was much more competitive than the score indicates.
“I don’t know that the score matched the play on the field,” Shaw said. “We’re gonna have to play the best football we’ve played all year.”
That’s because a playoff spot is on the line. The Wolverines’ lone loss came to top-ranked Gainesville and if Flowery Branch drops tonight’s game, it would force a win-or-go-home contest against Gainesville in the season finale.
“Our guys understand that this is the biggest game of the season right now,” Shaw said.
They also understand that in order to defeat the Wolverines, they’ll have to figure out a way to stop a Wing-T offense, the same type of offense that is used at North Hall and Creekview, two teams that beat Flowery Branch earlier this season.
“I don’t know if we’re as good as those two offenses,” West Forsyth coach Frank Hepler said. “Flowery Branch is a great team and I don’t know if those two losses had to do with the offenses.”
According to Shaw, not stopping the Wing-T was the reason for the losses, with Creekview exposing the Falcons with buck sweeps and counters and although they were successful stopping those types of runs by North Hall, the Trojans were able to use traps to gain yardage.
“Hopefully if we can combine all that together, our defense will be where it needs to be,” Shaw said. “We’re just trying to get better with what we do.”
His coaching counterpart echoes that statement, but for the leader of a program in just its third year, getting better is measured by how the Wolverines fare against the best.
“We’re looking at it as an opportunity to try and get better against a good team to see where we match up,” Hepler said. “Hopefully we can go out and play to the level of Flowery Branch.”
That level will be amped up several notches tonight because the Falcons know that a loss to the Wolverines might keep them out of the postseason.
“This is what’s been circled on our schedule,” Shaw said of tonight’s game. “We realize, on our side (of the subregion), it was probably gonna come down to this game to get in.
“This game determines one of those playoffs spots and we’re approaching it that way,” he added. “Hopefully we’ll put together a great game which is much needed.”
A great game for either team will lead to a postseason berth, which for Hepler is something unimaginable.
“It’s not fair to talk about the playoffs,” Hepler said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get there, but that would be fourth or fifth in the issues that we’re looking at right now.”
The biggest issue for the Wolverines will be stopping a Flowery Branch offense that is averaging 435.9 yards and 46.6 points per game and a quarterback in Connor Shaw that has 1,700 yards passing and 20 touchdowns on the year.
Despite those gaudy numbers, Lee Shaw knows that a playoff-clinching win will come down to stopping West Forsyth.
“Offensively, we’re better than we were last year,” he said. “But defense still wins the big ones and that’s been proven this year.
“We’re gonna have to win this thing defensively.”