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Prep soccer: Flowery Branch earns third straight shutout and berth in state quarterfinals
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Listen to Flowery Branch coach Jeremy Purdy talk about his team's performance Tuesday night against Sandy Creek.

FLOWERY BRANCH — The start of a state playoff soccer game is, more times than not, laced with uncertainty. In-game adjustments combined with the realization that, regardless of the stakes, it is still just a game can breed confidence.

Not as much confidence, however, as the first score.

Over a 10-minute span in the second half Class AAA No. 3-ranked Flowery Branch went from scoreless to a three-score lead in its 3-0 win over Class AAA No. 11-ranked Sandy Creek on Tuesday night at Falcon Field in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.

"Our guys made a commitment at halftime that we needed to get after it in the first 10 minutes (of the second half)," first-year Flowery Branch coach Jeremy Purdy said. "I just felt like it was a letdown because in the game against Blessed Trinity we were up 2-0 at halftime and came out flat in the first ten minutes and I told the guys that we needed to step it up here and be more aggressive than we were in the last game.

"We needed to win the 50-50 in the midfield and we did a much better job of that in the second half."

With the win Flowery Branch (17-1), which recorded its third straight shutout and ninth overall, moves on to the quarterfinals of the state tournament where it will face LaGrange on Friday night in Flowery Branch.

No. 10-ranked LaGrange, and the fourth seed out of Area 2-AAA, made it to the quarterfinal round with a 3-1 win over No. 12-ranked Richmond Hill.

"The first thing I want to do is to find out about these teams and what we can do against them to be successful," Purdy said. "Our mind set leading up to the game is going to be to go out and have a couple of good days of practice, regroup and be focused and I think we’ll come out strong in the quarterfinals."

The first half ended in a scoreless tie thanks to the stellar play of both Sandy Creek’s goalie, Donovan Harper and Flowery Branch’s goalie, Zach Clark.

The two combined for 11 saves on 18 shots on goal in the first period and Donovan would finish the game with 15 saves.

"Our strategy going into the game was to get it out to the wings and attack on the wide side of the field, looking for the crosses back into our forwards and making runs on the backsides to the back post," Purdy said. "And we were able to do that better in the second half."

The Falcons first score came 16 minutes into the second period off the foot of senior midfielder David Patino who received a throw-in from fellow senior Kyle Ellis to assist on the goal.

The score came on Flowery Branch’s 14th shot on goal and from there the flood gates opened.

"It’s always a positive when we can score a goal," Purdy said, "so it really gave us some momentum. I knew playing against a team like this (Sandy Creek) that if we could get up early or just score a goal then that would make a difference in our style of play and we could be more aggressive."

More aggressive the Falcons were and the pressure paid off as their second goal came two minutes after the first on a cross by Jerson Umanzor into the box that Ellis connected with putting it on the ground past a diving Harper.

Umanzor, who was playing in his first game since the April 12 game at Lumpkin County in which he received a red card, would further his team’s advantage with 15 minutes to go in the match when he scored off a cross by Steven Brett.

"(Jersen’s) been working extremely hard during practice and I know he has the talent and the ball skill and he’s becoming a better soccer player," Purdy said. "He’s understanding the game a lot better this year especially towards the latter part of the season and he knows what to do."

On Friday, senior midfielder Johnny Venegas will return after missing the last two games because of a red card. Flowery Branch’s match against LaGrange will be the first time in this year’s state playoffs that the Falcons are playing with their regular-season starting lineup.

"He (Venegas) does an excellent job ball-skill wise," Purdy said. "He has an understanding of the game...he’s been to the (state) finals before and he can lead us there again this year with his on-field leadership."