FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch’s season is going just as the Falcons had hoped.
The Falcons (8-1, 3-0 Region 7B-AAA) secured home field advantage in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs with a 42-13 win against Johnson on Friday night at ‘The Branch.’ Hand-in-hand with the home field advantage is the subregion ‘B’ title for the second consecutive season. Last season, the Falcons won big at home to open the playoffs against Sandy Creek.
This year, the Falcons will open the playoffs against the No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAA on Nov. 16 in Flowery Branch.
Next week, the Falcons have the opportunity to close out the regular season with an undefeated subregion record in two seasons of playing a subdivided schedule.
"Our team is so focused right now," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "We made some big plays tonight and beat a good Johnson football team."
Starting the playoffs in front of a home crowd is key for Flowery Branch. The Falcons are 14-1 at ‘The Branch’ since the end of the 2004 season.
Johnson (3-6, 1-2) is out of playoff contention. The Knights’ consecutive loses to Gainesville and Friday’s loss to the Falcons ended their drive for the postseason.
Falcons senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw led the team on Friday, racking up 249 passing yards by peppering his passes to five different receivers.
Flowery Branch’s Connor Shaw had the longest play from scrimmage with a 53-yard touchdown pass from his brother. He finished the night with five catches for 77 yards.
"I think this win is going to help spark our run for the playoffs," Connor Shaw said. "This was a big night for us with senior night and I’m so happy for my brother.
"We’re all excited about the playoffs." Tracy Sykes had touchdown catches of 2, 19 and 10 yards for the team. He finished with five catches for 47 yards.
"This win takes a lot of pressure off of us knowing we’ve secured home field in the first round of the playoffs," Sykes, a senior, said. "We’re playing well right now, but I think we can still improve."
Flowery Branch solidified its home field status for the first round of the playoffs on Friday thanks in part to a couple of plays made famous on the college football field.
In the first quarter, the Falcons’ senior quarterback caught the Knights’ defense off guard with a goal line touchdown pass from the 2. The Middle Tennessee recruit dropped back and passed the ball with a basketball jump shot motion and found Sykes wide open in the end zone with 30 seconds left in the opening period.
That play was made well-known last season by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s improvised touchdown pass against LSU in a similar fashion.
"That’s a play we put in last week," Lee Shaw said. "The bottom line is we got what we needed.
"It’s all about having some fun out there."
Flowery Branch had one more left in its bag of tricks.
With only 18 seconds left before halftime, Flowery Branch lined up for a 35-yard field goal, selling the attempt perfectly.
Instead of attempting the field goal, the holder flipped the ball over his shoulder to senior place kicker Kyle Ellis, who ran it in from the 18. That fake field goal was a carbon-copy of LSU’s touchdown by place kicker Colt David earlier this season against South Carolina.
"That play never worked for us in practice," Lee Shaw said with a laugh. "That was another big momentum swing."
Flowery Branch’s defense played well all night long with good penetration at the line of scrimmage to stop Johnson’s running game. Flowery Branch’s David DeLeon and Greg Palmer each recovered a Johnson fumble to set up a short field for the Falcons.
Johnson finished with only 52 rushing yards and 136 yards of total offense.
"The bottom line is we couldn’t get the ball moving tonight," Johnson coach Paul Friel said. "We turned the ball over and gave Flowery Branch the ball in good position."
Johnson plays host to Pickens next Friday at Billy Ellis Memorial.