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Rodrigue: Despite loss to Buford, Flowery Branch still has tools for playoff run
Falcons to host first-round playoff game in midst of outstanding turnaround season
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Buford defensive end Mick Reese (41) and Flowery Branch tight end CJ Goodwin (88) collide during the game between Flowery Branch and Buford in Flowery Branch, on Nov. 3, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Within a matter of minutes Friday night, Ben Hall stressed the same point to his Flowery Branch High football team and the reporters assembled at Falcon Field.

“We can’t let Buford beat us twice,” Hall said.

The Wolves probably won’t have the chance to do so unless the two Region 8-5A teams meet in the playoffs, which they both open at home next Friday. What Hall meant was the Falcons can’t let the sting of their 42-7 loss to Buford in the de facto region championship game linger as they make their first postseason appearance since 2013.

And there’s no reason they should.

Despite the lopsided score, No. 9 Flowery Branch (8-2, 5-1 region) trailed by just seven points at halftime and was within two touchdowns until late in the third quarter. The third-ranked Wolves (8-1, 6-0) simply got the better of an exhausted defense, an outcome even Hall anticipated.

“We were afraid that may happen, just wearing out in the second half,” the coach said. “But our defense played their guts out. They were just on the field for too long. We couldn’t sustain many drives in the second half.”

In truth, that’s how all but a handful of teams in Georgia would fare against Buford, who have been to 10 straight championship games and won seven of them. 

With superior depth and talent — see Michigan commit Christian Turner and Tennessee commit Anthony Grant, both running backs — it would be somewhat of a shock if the Wolves didn’t make it back to Atlanta for the 11th consecutive season.

It’s a team that had gone nearly 19 quarters without allowing a single point until Falcons quarterback Elijah Gainey found receiver Jalin Strown for an 85-yard score to cut the deficit to 14-7 about three minutes until halftime.

“We played the team that has been the standard in every classification they’ve been in for so long,” Hall said. “The kids battled and gave all they had. You really can’t fault the effort we showed.”

Indeed, Flowery Branch’s fight was enough to impress even Buford, which had outscored its  five previous region opponents 269-7.

“The score does not indicate how good Flowery Branch played this year,” Wolves coach John Ford said. “ … To be able to play at this speed (before the playoffs begin) was beneficial for us, no doubt.”

Or you can take it from defensive end Brock Mattison and offensive lineman Logan Kesler, who agreed the Falcons showed vast improvement Friday night.

“Their line was much more physical, and they came off the ball much faster,” Mattison said.

It’s no wonder Flowery Branch, which went 3-7 last year while missing the playoffs for the third straight time, looks like a completely different team in Hall’s first season at the helm. 

Behind the two-headed rushing attack of Malik Damons and Malik Drayton and a play-making defense that allowed just 164 yards in the first half Friday before wearing out, the Falcons amassed eight regular-season wins, their most since 2012.

Only one of those wins came by fewer than 14 points, and Flowery Branch has arguably the most forgivable collection of losses in the state — Friday night’s defeat against the Wolves and a 35-29 loss at Class 4A No. 8 Jefferson.

Overall, it’s a resume fit for a No. 2 seed and team that can make some serious noise in the playoffs. The Falcons can prove that when they host Kell in the first round of the postseason next Friday.

“We’ve got to find the positives from this game,” Hall said. “We’ve got to get together, come together as a team and get ready for survive-and-advance football.”

Flowery Branch has all the tools to survive its loss against Buford.

If Hall can get the Falcons to put it behind them, the only question is how far they’ll advance.

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