There’s a good chance Blake Sims and Connor Shaw will never see eye to eye on the field. The rival quarterbacks in high school will stay on opposite sides in college; Flowery Branch’s Shaw will be moving on the University of South Carolina next season and Sims will be going on to the University of Alabama — both SEC schools and frequent opponents.
With live arms and the ability to scramble effortlessly away from trouble, both have captivated the high school football scene in Hall County as starters for their respective schools since they were juniors.
Now these nimble signal callers are ready to square off for the second and final time Friday night at Falcons Field.
“I’m sure we’ll both come ready to play this one,” Sims said.
Clearly, everyone is going to be looking to see which quarterback can win the battle of two of the state’s best at the position. Oh yeah, the game also decides the subregion title between Gainesville (9-0, 4-0 Region 7B-AAA) and Flowery Branch (7-2, 4-0), and homefield for the first round of the playoffs goes to the winner.
“Not only are they two of the best quarterbacks in the state, but they play in the same county and in the same subregion,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “They are both scary to try and defend.”
Gainesville resident Chuck Clausen has an interesting perspective on watching these two quarterbacks. A former national recruiting coordinator for Ohio State University, he’s also seen plenty of high school football locally since moving to the area in 1992.
Since moving to Northeast Georgia, he says Sims and Shaw are the two best to play at the position in the county.
“When I was at Ohio State, I would go all over the country looking for quarterbacks as good as they are, and would maybe be able to find two or three in a state,” Clausen said. “I like everything I see about them.
“They are both clearly Division-I talent.”
Shaw has the flashier numbers this season, but some of that is due to more playing time. Flowery Branch’s quarterback has 2,016 passing yards and 24 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He’s also one of the area’s leading rushers with 584 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.
“With Connor, the play’s never over until either he’s on the ground or the ball’s on the ground,” Miller said. “He’s so slippery, and when he’s scrambling, he’s always looking down the field.
Sims, on the other hand, has thrown for 1,402 yards and 20 touchdown passes and ran for 450 yards. He’s also a special teams weapon and returned a punt 80 yard for a touchdown last week against Johnson.
With the success of top-ranked Gainesville’s season, he’s often been substituted for in the second half of lopsided games, cutting down on his number of snaps.
“We know Sims is a tremendous athlete, great playmaker, competitor and extremely versatile,” Flowery Branch coach and Connor’s father, Lee Shaw said.
With such prolific high school careers, Sims and Shaw both have a bag full of memorable moments with the ball in their hands.
Shaw led the Falcons to the Class AAA state title game as a junior. It was at the title game in the Georgia Dome that he connected with Chris Lipscomb on a well-placed 72-yard touchdown pass out of the reach of a Cairo defender.
Shaw also has a pair of big throws to senior receiver Robby Boudreau in his two years at quarterback: the first was a late game-winning touchdown throw in the second round against Ridgeland last season, and the second was a big touchdown on fourth down late against West Forsyth two weeks ago to win and solidify a playoff berth.
However, his father and coach says that Connor’s biggest improvements have come in the understanding of the game. “He’s seeing the big picture on the field,” coach Shaw said.
“Connor has a slight edge with his deep understanding of the offense and having his father as the coach,” Clausen said. “He knows who is going to be open and where they’ll be on the field.”
Meanwhile, Sims’ biggest moments revolve around his way he can shake free from a sure sack and turn it into a huge gain. According to Miller, one of the biggest “wow” moments came when his quarterback stepped out of the pocket earlier this season against West Forsyth with four defenders pursuing and ran it for a long touchdown.
Last year against Flowery Branch, Sims took the play for a 60-yard run for a touchdown. Then there’s the screen pass from Tyson Smith he turned into a 65-yard touchdown against White County.
“I haven’t seen anyone catch him in the open field in two years,” Miller said. “Blake is so dadgum elusive.”
Even though they wear different high school uniforms, these two quarterbacks played on the same sideline at a scouting combine last summer at a high school in Atlanta. In fact, Shaw connected with Gainesville’s quarterback, who was playing at wide receiver during the camp, for a couple of touchdowns.
Shaw sees the strength of Sims’ game as that of having an extra running back on the field, who happens to have a laser for an arm.
“Blake forces defenses to stop the pass and then opens things up so he can run forever,” Connor Shaw said.
The big picture of this game centers on the playoff implications. A win for Gainesville solidifies a Region 7-AAA title and homefield advantage to open the playoffs. If Flowery Branch wins, the Falcons win the subregion and North Hall wins the region title as a result of head-to-head advantage.
“We want to win this game and it is going to take a great team effort to do that,” coach Shaw said.