FLOWERY BRANCH — For a team known for its offense, Flowery Branch High’s football team received a charge from its defense Friday night.
The Falcons rode three fumble recoveries and a blocked punt — along with some offensive fireworks, of course — to a 69-16 victory over visiting East Hall.
Flowery Branch (6-2, 3-0 Region 7B-AAA) turned the three turnovers into 20 points, more than enough to get back on a winning track following last week’s heartbreaking loss to North Hall.
Three different Falcons recovered fumbles. Flowery Branch scored via four touchdown runs, three scoring passes and a 10-yard return of a blocked kick.
"It all started with a good week of practice," said junior defensive back Mykah Hester, who had the first fumble recovery after a jarring hit on East Hall’s Jamond Witt. "We had a lot of doubters about our defense. People were saying we couldn’t get the job done. I think we proved tonight that we can. We were able to provide pressure from the ends and that forced them to make mistakes."
Senior quarterback Connor Shaw passed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for 106 yards and three scores on the cold, blustery night. Rodney Young was his favorite target, the senior hauling in four catches for 96 yards and a one-handed touchdown catch that will go down as one for the highlight reels.
Imani Cross added two rushing touchdowns in the second quarter. Seven Falcons scored on the night, including Quinncy Hodges, who blocked an East Hall punt and returned it for Flowery Branch’s final score late in the third period.
"This was a good game for our defensive guys," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said. "Last week, North Hall trapped us a little bit and our defense wanted to come out and play well. They did it with excitement and emotion. After we followed their lead, everyone was having fun."
East Hall (0-7, 0-3) had the advantage everywhere but on the scoreboard in the first quarter. The Vikings held Flowery Branch to just 39 yards and seven points in the first half.
Connor Shaw’s 15-yard touchdown run midway through the opening period was the difference early, but East Hall sacked the Falcons’ quarterback in the end zone for a safety late in the quarter.
"We couldn’t get on a roll early," Lee Shaw said. "East Hall came out and really played very hard. They put us in some tough spots early and brought a lot of heat. We had trouble blocking their ends up front, and if you don’t play well up front, it’s tough to move the ball."
The tide turned in the second period, where Flowery Branch outgained the Vikings 204-46. The Falcons scored four times in a 7:09 span: two touchdown runs from Cross, another scoring run from Shaw and a 9-yard pass from the quarterback to Robby Boudreau.
Hester set up Cross’ first touchdown, a 9-yard run, with his fumble recovery at the Vikings’ 39. Following Cross’ second touchdown (a 2-yard plunge), Brandon Tewksbury scooped up a high kickoff that East Hall failed to cover on the 25-yard-line. Shaw hit Boudreau on a fade pattern in the right corner of the end zone two plays later.
The third quarter was more of the same. Young made a spectacular one-handed catch for a 54-yard touchdown from Shaw, who added a 22-yard run. Young’s grab was the talk of the team afterward, the senior basically grabbing the ball in the palm of his right hand while turning around to come back toward Shaw’s pass.
"He made me look good on that one, that’s for sure," Shaw said. "We see that type of ability in practice a lot."
"That was big-time," Lee Shaw added. "Rodney can bring that to the table. He’s so athletic and a tough matchup."
Christian Howell caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Logan Connely before Hodges’ blocked punt on the ensuing possession.
The Vikings got fourth-quarter scores from Carlos Negron on a 3-yard run and Witt on a 55-yard dash. East Hall finished with 165 yards rushing.