It wasn’t pretty, but the Flowery Branch High football team found a way past a determined Denmark program on a frigid Friday night in Flowery Branch.
In a regular-season finale full of inconsistencies on both sides of the ball for Flowery Branch, the ninth-ranked Falcons (8-2, 4-2 Region 7-4A) still overcame those errors to hold off a late Denmark rally and win, 28-19.
With the win, the Falcons secure a No. 3 seed for the Class 4A tournament and most likely visit Rossville next Friday night when they face No. 2 seed Ridgeland, which finished second behind unbeaten Pickens in the Region 6-4A, in the opening round. The Panthers are back in the playoffs for the third straight year, including second-round appearances in 2016-17.
“It was a good win in some less-than-ideal situations, if you might say,” said Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall, who has the Falcons back in the postseason for the second-straight season. “I am proud of the kids for finishing. … “(Denmark’s) first-year program is a little misleading. ...They have five or six starters that started at South Forsyth, and with that split, they have some really good players. They played hard tonight, and hats off to them. They had a great game plan.”
The Falcons were penalized numerous times throughout the game, and gave the Danes a short field on a few occasions in the second half due to short punts created by low, dipping snaps. Hall was also relieved to see his defense get off the field despite busted coverage on a few deep pass plays, which Denmark failed to capitalize on with overthrown balls and one critical drop by a receiver who was steps from the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“It was just us holding our breath on the sidelines at times,” Hall said. “Our kids played hard, we just have to play smarter moving forward.”
As for Denmark, its inaugural season ends just shy of a first-ever state playoff berth.
“The heart of this football team is really strong,” Denmark coach Terry Crowder said. “We (showed) that all year and played like that all year.”
It certainly showed.
The Danes, who broke the scoreless tie with 21-play scoring drive to open the game, had to battle back after falling behind 28-7 at the start of the second half. The Danes got a pair of touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, starting with a 7-yard rushing score from Devin Ducille, who spun off a Falcons defender in the backfield and dashed across the plane at the 4:06 mark of the third period. A missed 32-yard field goal by the Falcons minutes later berthed the Danes’ final scoring drive, which ended with a Ze’Vian Capers 35-yard catch-and-run touchdown off the shovel pass nine plays later.
But quarterback Ben Whitlock’s pass attempt on the two-point conversion to follow was broken up by defensive back D.J. Brown, keeping it a two-score margin for the remainder.
Capers finished with 10 catches and 110 yards for the Danes. Their quarterback Whitlock had 221 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 21 of 44 attempts.
The Danes (5-5, 2-4), while giving the hosts quite the scare in the final two quarters, still showed signs of a young program against a Falcons squad that knew how to bring the pressure inside the box. The Falcons came up with three takeaways as Chase Dial-Watson and Jerzee Allentini each intercepted Whitlock. However, Flowery Branch dropped two pick-six chances in the second half.
Defensive end Cody Inman came through for Flowery Branch on Denmark's final two drives. The senior had a pivotal sack — one of five for the Falcon defense Friday — to back the Danes well behind the chains on their second-to-last drive, and one fell on a Danes' fumble inside the Flowery Branch 40-yard-line minutes later as Denmark was in contention to add another score with 2:14 to play. Falcons fullback Allentini was able to move the chains twice on gains of 11 and 10 yards to put the game away.
The Falcons overcame a lackluster start by putting up 21-unanswered points before halftime.
Flowery Branch flipped the momentum with a blocked punt on Denmark’s second offensive drive, during which they punched in the big special teams play with an Aiden Lorenz scoop-and-score to tie the contest at 7-all with 54 seconds left in the opening period.
"All these games come down to the kicking game, and that’s what cost us tonight," Crowder said. "I’ve never won a game where we had a punt blocked, and I knew that was gonna come back and bite us a little bit."
The Falcons recorded their first three sacks — one apiece from Jack Dodson and C.J. Goodwin — and got an interception from Dial-Watson in the second quarter to keep Denmark out of the end zone.
An Allentini 1-yard touchdown plunge, followed by an Elijah Gainey 7-yard touchdown pass to Connor Larson on back-to-back scoring drives stretched the Falcons’ lead to 21-7 with 3:03 left in the half.
Senior running back Zarian Brawner, who rattled off runs of 11 and 17 yards to setup Gainey for his lone scoring strike, left the game with a foot ailment after that and finished with 72 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Dial-Watson quickly picked up the slack after Brawner's early departure by adding to the Falcons' lead at the start of the second half. He carried three times for 65 yards — including a 55-yard scamper and nine-yard touchdown — to make it 28-7 less than a minute into the third period.
Flowery Branch was otherwise slow out the gates as the Danes took their turn in milking some clock on the first drive from scrimmage. Denmark ate up over seven minutes of the game clock during a 21 play, 73 yard drive, extended by the first of three Falcons encroachment penalties in the half and one defensive pass interference on a third-and-long.
Whitlock was a big part of turning the long march into points, as he hooked up with wideout Capers four times for 38 yards before finding Teddy Davenport, who managed to get one foot in-bounds in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 Danes lead with 4:49 left in the first period.