ALPHARETTA -- After a wild first half, it figured to go down to the final play between Flowery Branch and Johns Creek in their Class AAAA first round playoff game Friday night.
It did -- and were the Falcons ever happy it did.
Flowery Branch snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a final-play, 36-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Kanler Coker to Casey Osborne to beat the Gladiators 41-38 in a game for the ages. Osborne caught the ball while lying on his back in a sea of players from both sides.
"It was a gift from God, without a doubt," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "I think it pinged off three of four or players before it fell to Casey. There was some bigtime mojo there."
The seventh-ranked Falcons (10-1) survived a 17-point fourth quarter by Johns Creek that gave the Gladiators a 38-35 lead with 42 seconds left, their only lead of the game. The Falcons answered with Coker connecting on four consecutive passes to Jeremy Haley, Osborne, C.J. Curry, and then Osborne again as time ran out to pull out the improbable win.
Flowery Branch looked to have the game in control entering the fourth quarter after Noel Padmore scored on a interception return for a touchdown for a 35-21 lead. But the Gladiators scored on consecutive possessions to tie the game and then got a 30-yard field goal from Kyle Fowler for a 38-35 lead.
The game was back-and-forth in the first half with Flowery Branch taking a 21-14 lead into halftime on the strength of an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Quinton Mayfield. Johns Creek (9-2) wasted little time in tying the game scoring on an 88-yard run on the first play of the third quarter.
The Falcons then ran out to a 28-21 lead when Coker connected with Haley on a touchdown pass before Padmore pushed the lead to 35-21.
The Falcons finished with 366 yards of offense, 222 passing and two turnovers. Johns Creek finished with 443 yards of offense, 335 rushing, but three turnovers led to 21 Flowery Branch points.
"What a memory; it was just unbelievable," Shaw said. "These kids are writing a pretty cool story of their own right now."
Flowery Branch, the third seed from Region 8-AAAA, next will get the unexpected opportunity to host its second round playoff game after Thomas County Central -- the fourth seed from Region 1-AAAA -- shocked Statesboro, the top seed from Region 2-AAAA, 31-28 Friday night on the road.
"It doesn't get any better than that," Shaw said.