Writer's Block podcast: Jon and Brent are joined by Bill Murphy and Jeff Cochran to talk about the region title games.
Region 8-AAA championship: Gainesville and White County set for showdown
Region 8-AAAA championship: Pair of 9-0 teams meet to decide title
Krohn: Falcons enjoy underdog role
At the end of the game, it is going to come down to each teams’ playmakers. Very few teams have better playmakers than Clarke Central this year.
Clearly both Clarke Central and Flowery Branch have solid teams playing at a very high level this season. That is why both the Gladiators and the Falcons are undefeated and ranked in the top 10 as they meet for the Region 8-AAAA championship at Falcon Field tonight.
I spent a considerable amount of time looking at both teams and nothing leads me to think one has a considerable advantage.
Clarke Central has the more potent offense (44 points per game), but not by a lot. Flowery Branch has the better defense (giving up 11 points per game), but not by a lot.
Both teams have beaten similar opponents by similar scores. In almost every way, the game looks like a complete coin flip — almost every way.
Both teams have good chemistry and respond well in big games. So this game could come down to a single series or even a single play. The Gladiators have a collection of athletes that can make the big play in the big moment.
Take quarterback Martay Mattox, for example. Last year, he was Clarke Central’s offense, accounting for 31 touchdowns in the run to the state finals.
This year, he’s passing more effectively (19 touchdowns, four interceptions) and still poses a threat to tuck and run at any time. And with a veteran-led offensive line, there will be alleys for him to take advantage of.
Take running back Quenshaun Watson, for example. There might not be a more improved player on Clarke Central’s roster from last year. People who have watched a lot of Clarke Central games are used to seeing him make that first tackler miss and then break a run for double-digit yardage. He has rushed for 21 touchdowns this season and is averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
Take linebacker Jordan Pierce, for example. You will hear his name a lot when the Gladiators are on defense or special teams. Pierce, who is fielding interest from a number of colleges but is waiting until after the season to decide, has 94 tackles this year and is the best player on the team at reading the situation and flying to the football. Oh, and he’s also a solid punter.
Those are just the Gladiators’ big three, and yes they were called that before LeBron James and Chris Bosh landed in Miami. The scary thing is that they usually just play three quarters, so their numbers could be even more imposing.
That isn’t saying that Flowery Branch doesn’t have its own collection of talent, but let’s face it. The Falcons’ best players from last year graduated. If I had to fill out a high school fantasy football roster — even though I loathe fantasy football — I’m picking the Gladiators clean before I reach Flowery Branch’s roster.
The players I have already written about know what big games are like. They played in the biggest possible game last year and came a quarter shy of winning it. They have been through the struggles, the trials of the playoffs, the tribulations of a state title game.
The Gladiators have proven each week since that championship game that they can consistently improve and know how to make plays when they need to.
This week’s Clarke Central team is better than the one that played in the Georgia Dome last year. Another run to the Dome will start with a win over the Falcons tonight.
Jeff Cochran is prep sports editor for The Athens Banner-Herald. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.