Last Friday, Gainesville — the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA, the highest scoring team and the team which has allowed the second fewest points — took one more step closer to the opportunity to prove that they are Georgia’s best AAA team in 2009.
Unconcerned about anything but what happens between the white lines on Friday night, Flowery Branch knocked another higher-seeded and higher-rated team from the 2009 playoffs last week.
The Falcons are focused and mentally tough, and I predict that Carver Columbus (11-1, No. 1 Region 2-AAA) is in for the fight of its life on its home field Friday night.
I have watched with pleasure the two Shaw brothers lead some fine football teams. Both are smart and talented, and each is a relentless competitor. Their relentlessness is contagious — I saw it when Jaybo put his team on his back against Gainesville in the second half in an upset victory in 2007.
We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow night, but know it or not, Carver-Columbus has a “tiger by the tail.” Gainesville plays host to last year’s state champion Cairo, a 28-14 winner at the Dome over Flowery Branch almost one year ago.
Two out of the three Syrupmakers losses this year came against teams which are still in the 2009 playoffs, Peach County in AAA and Thomas County Central in AAAA.
Cairo at Gainesville
GAINESVILLE (12-0): Power Rating 7.04, Average points scored 46.3, Average points allowed 6.6. Gainesville’s power rating would suggest that they are the best football team left in the playoffs, but starting Friday night against Cairo, the Red Elephants start playing teams, who for one reason or another, think they have a legitimate chance to win the 2009 state championship.
Cairo has players playing for them who were members of the 2008 state champions, and they come out of the locker room every Friday night thinking like champions.
Last Friday night, Gainesville beat a pretty good Dunwoody team, and for the first time all season, they were behind at one point in the game.
Neither team scored in the first quarter; I can’t remember the last time I saw a Gainesville team being held scoreless in the opening quarter. Dunwoody then kicked a field goal early in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead.
Then Teryan Rucker broke a 46-yard touchdown run, and just before halftime, Tyson Smith scored on a 6-yard run and Gainesville went in at halftime with a 14-3 lead.
An angry Gainesville defense came out of the locker room at halftime and totally took over the game, forcing turnovers, scoring a touchdown, setting up special team touchdowns and completely convincing the Dunwoody team this was not their night.
When the game was all over, the Gainesville offense turned out to be its usual dominating self. It had 524 yards of total offense, averaged 6.8 yards per carry and 25.7 yards per pass attempt.
The state’s finest defense not only inspired their offensive teammates, they put up great numbers, allowing only 2.4 yards per carry, 7 yards per pass attempt and a completion percentage of 27.
Friday night it’s the Red Elephants at home against the defending state champs.
CAIRO (9-3): Power Rating 2.05 Average Points Scored 17.3, Average Points allowed 8.4. The defending state champs lost their first two games of the season to two fine Class AAAA football teams, one of which was Thomas County Central, a team which is still playing in the AAAA playoffs.
In the middle of the season, Cairo suffered its only loss to a Class AAA team, and that was Peach County, a perennial powerhouse. Peach County (12-0) is still in the playoffs and almost as dominating as Gainesville.
Cairo has consistently played good defense, but their offense has not been, so far this year, near as productive as the 2008 state champions.
Flowery Branch at Carver-Columbus
FLOWERY BRANCH (9-3): Power Rating 1.67, Average Points scored 39.6, Average Points allowed 23.7. For the second week in a row, last Friday night the Falcons went on the road and defeated a team which was seeded higher than they had been.
Three things jump out a me when I study what the Falcons have done in the first two weeks of the playoffs:
1. The kicking game makes big plays; 2. The defense is playing better than it has all season; 3. They have a high-performing field general in Connor Shaw, who not only plays well, but also inspires the best from his teammates.
Last Friday night the Falcons held Grady to 2.8 yards per rush. That is better run defense than they have played all year. Grady was able to move the ball through the air and was able to average 9.3 yards per pass attempt, but only one of its pass completions went for a touchdown.
Shaw had another great night, throwing for 219 yards, completing 79 percent of his pass attempts, and he averaged a very healthy 9.1 yards per attempt.
He also rushed for 73 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. Inserted into the Falcons’ defense, Shaw also had an interception. When the Falcons get off the bus, waiting for them will be 11-1
Carver-Columbus. Next to Gainesville, this will be the best team they have played this season.
CARVER-COLUMBUS (11-1): Power Rating 3.04, Average Points Scored 34.3 , Average Points Allowed 11.3. Carver’s only loss this season came in Week 3 against Class AAAAA Northside-Warner Robins.
On its resume are a couple of wins over some very strong football teams: Baldwin in Week 4, 28-19 (Baldwin lost last Friday night to Cairo 9-7), and then perennial power LaGrange in Week 10, 27-7.
During the regular season, Carver on offense has not been as productive as the Falcons, but they have played considerably better defense. Carver has scored more than 40 points four times and their defense has pitched one shutout.
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.