By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The little things matter big for Flowery Branch
Flowery Branch's Billy Thompson works on field goals during Tuesday's practice at Flowery Branch High. - photo by By Tom Reed
FLOWERY BRANCH — As is the case with almost any sport, there are aspects of the game of football that are glamorous and aspects that are not so much.

Imani Cross’ 1,209 yards this season and Connor Shaw’s 2,663 yards passing are part of the former and are two main components to Flowery Branch’s second straight state quarterfinals appearance.

However included in the latter — what could be considered the less glamorous aspects — are other key components to the Falcons run, unnoticed components that are no less essential to their success: the kicking game and the offensive line.

This past summer, while the offense and defense were at 7-on-7 passing camps, Flowery Branch punter Will Monday and kicker Billy Thompson were at camps of their own, perfecting as best they could their craft.

The work the offense put in clearly paid off in that the unit is averaging 41.3 points per game. The work the defense put in has paid off of late in that the unit is giving up 17.5 points per game in the playoffs, a vast improvement when compared to the 25 points per game it gave up during the regular season.

But the work Monday and Thompson put in is also paying off and it isn’t seen in the numbers alone.

“We take our special teams as seriously here as we do our offense and defense,” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. “I’ve been saying it all year, we probably have the best kicker/punter combination in the state.

“But you can’t talk about Will (Monday) and Billy (Thompson) without talking about Austin Todd our long and short snapper and Kyle Famiano our holder — those guys do an amazing job.”

Thompson has been consistently good kicking the ball, 59 of his 78 kickoffs have reached the end zone and he’s made 60 of 64 point after attempts for the season.

But it’s been his play in the playoffs that has stood out as 9 of his 11 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks and a long field for the opposing offense: A needed commodity when playing against run-first teams such as Ridgeland and Grady.

It’s even more impressive when considered that Thompson is just three games into a starting stint at defensive end.

“We know that if we do our jobs it makes it easier on the defense,” Monday said. “And now that Billy (Thompson) is a part of that defense it makes it even more meaningful.”

Monday has also been consistently good this season, putting six of his 24 punts inside the 20-yard line while averaging 41.09 yards per punt.

But like his special teams mate, it’s been his play in the Falcons two playoff games that has stood out.

Against Ridgeland, Monday averaged 60 yards per punt pinning the Panthers inside the 5-yard line at what could have been a momentum-shifting point in the game.

Against Grady he was just as efficient averaging 42 yards on three punts, but it was his calm decision making on one particular play that made the biggest impact.

With the Falcons punting from their own 17-yard line, Monday mishandled a snap, picked it up and ran to his right while feeling the rush from the Grey Knights. In a small window, knowing he was about to be hit, Monday booted the ball 50 yards to once again give a Falcons’ opponent a long field and a long drive for the possibility of a score.

“I had to deal with what I had,” Monday said. “It was my job to pick it up and see if I was going to have the opportunity to kick it.
“I just made a swoop and turn kick and I knew I was going to get hit, but I wanted to make sure I got it off. It’s my job to do the best I can to help this team keep winning and make sure the seniors keep playing.”

One of those seniors Monday is referring to is center and snapper Todd.

Todd, along with junior Brandon Keller, began the season as the only two returning starters for an offensive line that, in 2008, paved the way for the Falcons to amass 5,000 yards of total offense and a state title game berth.

This year, Todd and Keller have been the stalwarts for an offensive line that has allowed Cross to gain 7 yards per carry and protected Shaw enough that he could have a 77.7 percent completion rating.

“They’ve bought in,” said coach Shaw of his team’s offensive line. “We’ve had several guys step up and they are a hard-working bunch.”

Much like Monday and Thompson, the productivity of the offensive line has increased in the playoffs as evidenced by their not missing a beat despite losing junior starter Hayden Waddell prior to the team’s regular season finale against Gainesville when he was injured in a car accident.

Waddell’s place on the line was filled by freshman Kevin Tarr who along with his fellow line mates has ensured that the offense keeps right on rolling, even in critical game situations where the Falcons only goal has been to milk the clock.

“Coach (Tom) Hall did a really good job of getting Kevin Tarr ready and letting the others know that they needed to step up and put more on their backs,” Shaw said. “These guys got him ready for the fire and they are one of the main reasons we just keep on showing up.”
Friends to Follow social media