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
Cochran: Playmakers will lead Clarke Central to win
Before the football season even started, Flowery Branch was written off and given the “rebuilding year” label, despite reaching the Class AAA state semifinals last year and the finals in 2008. Not only did the Falcons lose all their top playmakers from 2009 to either graduation or transfer, they were moving up a classification and into Region 8-AAAA, headed by Apalachee, Clarke Central and Rockdale County.
The assumption among pollsters was Flowery Branch, despite its recent success, would be playing out of its league this season. As a result, the Falcons were left outside of the preseason top 10.
Eleven weeks later, They’re the state’s No. 6 team at 9-0, having dominated 8-AAAA competition in, dare I say, Clarke Central fashion. They’ve outscored their competition by an average of 39.4-11.
Now, they must face their toughest task of the season in Clarke Central (also 9-0) at Falcon Field tonight in a game that will decide the 8-AAAA title.
The Gladiators advanced to the AAAA finals last year, so it will be a surprise to no one in the Falcons’ locker room if Flowery Branch is an underdog in this game too. That’s fine with them; they’ve shined in that role. They proclaim to be a team with no superstars, and their coach, Lee Shaw, has characterized them as a “bring-your-lunch-pail-to-work, blue collar-type team.”
It should be noted Shaw-coached Falcons teams have a history of playing spoiler. In nine state playoff games between 2008-09, they are 7-2 — their only losses coming in the semifinals and finals — and in all of those games, they were the lower seed.
They’re overlooked every year either because A) they lack the speed and athleticism that’s usually found on a championship-caliber team, or B) graduation of playmakers has forced them to start anew.
However, Shaw’s spread offense is one of the state’s best. It’s built upon rhythm and deception, and it’s executed at a very fast pace. Players in motion in the backfield before the snap, audibles at the line, the no-huddle — all components add up to leave an opposing defensive coordinator scratching his head when the Falcons turn a 5-yard screen pass or a seemingly harmless run up the middle into a 70-yard touchdown.
All 11 players are exactly where they’re supposed to be, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do in a system that is, relatively speaking, advanced for a high school football team.
Take Falcons quarterback Austin Brown — a transfer from Habersham Central — for example. Last season with Raiders, he threw for five touchdowns to 15 interceptions and 1,037 yards on 87-of-176 passing. In one season in the Falcons’ spread offense, he has thrown for 21 touchdowns to one interception and 1,988 passing yards on 131-of-201 passing. Again, 201 pass attempts and only one interception.
It’s the system that makes the Falcons a success, and it also extends to the defense. All season long, they, without much in the way of speed or size, have been able to box up speedy playmakers and limit the big play by being where they’re supposed to, doing what they’re supposed to.
This will be a close, back-and-forth game. It may be a 52-45 shootout, it may be a 12-9 nail-biter — but the Falcons will respond to whatever Clarke Central throws at them, as they did when the beat defending 8-AAAA champion Apalachee 52-35 in the third game of the season.
All season long, these “no-name” Falcons have been playing with a chip on their shoulder, have risen to the big occasion, and have done so with a number of different players stepping up each game. That is why they’ll close this regular season out they way they started it — silencing the doubters with a win.
All the while bringing home the first region title in the school’s nine-year history.
Adam Krohn is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesakrohn.