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Prep football: Flowery Branch 41, West Hall 7
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OAKWOOD — Five miles separates West Hall and Flowery Branch high schools. That, plus 34 points and a Class AAA playoff berth.

The Falcons put on a show Friday night as they tuned up for their third-straight state playoff appearance. Jaybo Shaw threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in the first half as Flowery Branch (9-1, 4-0 Region 7B-AAA) ended the regular season with a 41-7 victory over West Hall at Spartan Field.

Shaw, the senior quarterback, threw three scoring passes to brother Connor in the opening two quarters. The elder Shaw accounted for five touchdown passes in the first half as the Falcons led 41-0 at intermission. The first-half tally was Flowery Branch’s largest of the season and, with the playoffs starting next week at Falcon Field against Westminster, the third-place team from Region 5-AAA, came at an appropriate time.

Or did it? Is there such a thing as using all your ammo too soon?

"I don’t think so," said Jaybo Shaw, who ended the regular season with 2,027 yards and 25 touchdowns passing. "Nights like this are always good. We felt like the passing game really wasn’t clicking in the first half of the season and we wanted to have that perfect game. When you get to this point in AAA, every game is going to be tough and we want to be ready."

Flowery Branch scored on all six of its first-half possessions. The Shaws got it started with a 42-yard connection that capped a five-play, 83-yard drive. After stopping West Hall on fourth down at the Flowery Branch 33, the Falcons went 67 yards on 10 plays that ended with — you guessed it — a 19-yard touchdown pass from Jaybo Shaw to Conner Shaw on third down.

Flowery Branch was a perfect 5-of-5 on third down in the opening half and averaged 22 yards per conversion.

"With the experience we have, we have to feel like that on third down we can come through," Shaw said. "Who cares what it is on third down. We feel like we can get it."

The Falcons piled up 445 of the team’s 456 yards in the first half.

"That’s what we do," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "With the offense we run, you want to make sure you execute. It’s not like we were doing anything different. It was a great way for our seniors to close out the regular season. We did what we needed to do. We put it away in the first half and got some our younger guys some playing time."

"We just didn’t play too well," said Spartans coach Mike Newton. "We let people run through the passing zones and didn’t jam anyone. You can’t have that happen, get free like that."

The Falcons scored 28 points in the second half. Jaybo Shaw had a 3-yard scoring run to go along with a 66-yard touchdown to Conner Shaw and an 18-yard strike to Tracy Sykes. Darius Kimbrough added a 3-yard run to close the Falcons’ scoring.

Defensively, Flowery Branch limited West Hall to 214 yards of total offense and only 79 on the ground. Jimmy Smith recovered the Spartans’ only fumble in the first half, and Greg Palmer had five tackles.

Although the Falcons’ offense gets most of the publicity, the defense has been rock solid. Take away games against North Hall (a 41-14 loss) and Gainesville (a 49-38 victory) and Flowery Branch gave up just 6 points a game in the remaining eight contests.

"We wanted to come out and shut them down," Smith said. "We thrive on swarming to the ball and that’s what we did. When we come up with stops like we did (Friday), that means they can’t score and our offense can just take care of business."

West Hall’s Shunquez Stephens threw for 135 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the loss. Brother Marquis also rushed for more than 1,000 yards on the year.

Will Edge had the Spartans’ lone touchdown on a 14-yard catch from Shunquez Stephens in the fourth quarter.

West Hall ended its first season under Newton with a 2-3 record in its final five games. For a team with the bulk of its core group looking to return next year, the groundwork has been laid for a solid future, Newton said.

"I’ve already told them that we’ll be in the weight room in early December and that we’ll be in a lot of passing leagues this summer," Newton said. "We can’t get big enough or fast enough. We have a ways to go but we’re going to get there."

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