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Murphy: Gainesville and Flowery Branch up for the test in state quarterfinals
Big Red, Branch both draw top-ranked opponents
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There's probably going to be very similar feelings flowing through the locker rooms at Gainesville and Flowery Branch this week with state quarterfinal games looming against their respective classifications No. 1-ranked team Friday.

The Red Elephants' (11-1) reward for winning last Friday's second-round playoff game against Monroe-Albany is to face top-ranked Sandy Creek (12-0) Friday at City Park Stadium.

Meanwhile, Flowery Branch (11-1) will head off to DeKalb County Friday night to face Class AAAA's top-ranked Tucker (12-0) at Adams Stadium.

There's going to be some nerves for both. Flowery Branch has never defeated a top-ranked opponent in an Associated Press poll, according to Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

The Falcons' last time facing a No. 1-ranked opponent was the 2010 Region 8-AAAA title game against Clarke Central in Athens.

Meanwhile, sixth-ranked Gainesville's last meeting against a top-ranked opponent was a  Week 1 loss against Class AA's Buford, 49-0, its only loss of the season before going on to win 11 straight.

No. 7 Flowery Branch's only loss this year was in the Region 8-AAAA title game to Clarke Central, making it the No. 2 seed to the playoffs and now bouncing back and forth between road and home playoff games so far.

But nerves aside, there's probably also a lot of confidence with both programs that they'll be able to get it done and move to on the state semifinals.

It's interesting to note that Gainesville and Flowery Branch are in state quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons (2008, 2009 and 2011).

And both were knocked out in the second round last season: Flowery Branch against Kell, and Gainesville to Cedar Grove.

The only major difference I can see for Friday is that Gainesville will be playing at City Park Stadium, as a result of winning a Saturday coin flip with Sandy Creek, while Flowery Branch wasn't afforded that opportunity of playing at home as a No. 2 to seed.

Playing on the road shouldn't serve as much of an excuse for the Falcons. They've won eight of their last 10 playoff games on the road, including a first-round playoff win on a Hail Mary pass at Johns Creek.

Gainesville and Flowery Branch will also have a tremendous amount of respect for the opponent this week, thought it shouldn't be fear: You never know what can happen on any given Friday night in high school football.

This year Sandy Creek in Class AAA and Tucker in Class AAAA have been wire-to-wire No. 1's in Associated Press polling.

The Sandy Creek Patriots have the most impressive of streaks with 41 consecutive victories, including a Class AAAA state title in 2009 and in Class AAA last year.

Tucker is no chopped liver with wins in 26 of its last 27 (lost in the Class AAAA semifinals last season to Starr's Mill).

Finally, Gainesville and Flowery Branch are probably feeling deep down that they can prove the naysayers wrong.

Nothing can motivate a football player or team more than when they hear someone say they can't beat a team wearing a different uniform.

I'm not going to sit hear and say I think they're both going to win. Gainesville and Flowery Branch both have a huge challenge ahead, and they know it.

But I will say the Red Elephants and Falcons are up for the challenge and should make for an interesting night of football for supporters looking for an upset.

Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at


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