FLOWERY BRANCH -- Looking at Flowery Branch now it's hard to believe the Falcons ever opened the season 0-2.
The Branch has rolled its way through the Region 8-AAAAA schedule, winning five straight games to put itself in prime position for a league title and top seeding for the upcoming postseason.
"We're exactly where we want to be," Falcons coach Chris Griffin said. "Even when we were 0-2 I felt real positive about where we were mentally and emotionally. We have figured some things out. Those first two losses taught a lot about ourselves, and once the region schedule started we had a different mindset."
From what Flowery Branch has shown over the past five games, there is ample reason to believe that the Falcons are ready to challenge for the 8-AAAAA trophy -- not the least of which has been the emergence of a dominating rushing attack.
Earlier this week, Access North Georgia sports editor Morgan Lee caught up with the Falcons to talk about their impressive win streak, Friday's showdown with Heritage, Conyers and what has keyed their success in 2012. To watch the video feature, simply scroll down and click "play."
Led by an imposing offensive line, athletic quarterback (Jackson McDonald) and explosive running back (Justin Curry), the Falcons have rushed for 1,809 yards -- an average of 258 per game -- reshaping an attack that is still dangerous through the air but is relying more on its legs.
"In years past we've been known as a dual-threat; this year we're hanging our hat on the run," Griffin said. "The credit goes up front to our offensive line. We've got some phenomenal players and a great work ethic. They're handling their business up front. That's where it starts. Hats off to our quarterback and running back Jackson and Justin. Both of them are workhorses. Jackson (who also averages 135 yards passing per game) is getting yards after contact is really impressive for a quarterback, breaking tackles and outrunning guys, and he enjoys doing that. He'd almost rather run it than throw it anyway. When you've got guys who can play like that it makes us (coaches) look really good at times."
Starting tonight, the Falcons hope they can continue to look good in the face of the three toughest opponents it will face in region play.
Heritage, Conyers, (6-1, 4-1 Region 8-AAAAA) will pay a visit to the Branch this Friday, kicking off a three-game slate that also includes Clarke Central (3-1 in 8-AAAAA) and eighth-ranked Gainesville (6-1, 5-0). The Falcons shared the Region 8-AAAA crown with Heritage and Clarke Central last season, while the Red Elephants are looking for their fifth straight region crown.
"We're already talking like the playoffs have already started," Griffin said. "This is round one of the playoffs because every win you get here can only help you down the road. A loss can set you back. We're approaching it as round one of the playoffs."
Much like the postseason, tonight's game against the Patriots -- which base out of a run-heavy wing-T on offense -- should hinge on which team controls the line of scrimmage. Though both teams also have the ability to go to the air. Certainly McDonald has shown that, passing for 10 touchdowns, while completing almost 68 percent of his passes.
"Heritage is the typical Heritage team we've faced the past few years," said Griffin, still in the midst of his first season as head coach after acting as the Falcons' defensive coordinator for most of the program's existence. "They're very physical, very fundamentally sound. They don't make mistakes. They want to run the ball, play sort of old-school football. They're definitely a team we have to match physically."
As the Branch has shown lately, that hasn't been a problem, winning its region battles by an average margin of almost 25 points per contest.
"The offense is a lot more fast-paced right now, and, defensively, we're limiting our mistakes and penalties and picking each other up when we have missed assignments," senior outside linebacker Kris Smith said. "We have a lot of confidence right now, but at the same time we don't want to get too big a head. These last three games will mean a lot. We have to stay sound in what we do."
After this season's tough start, you can bet that focus won't be a problem now, especially considering the opponents -- Flowery Branch defeated Heritage by eight points last season, lost to Clarke Central and will want to play its best against its only local rival in Gainesville.
"It's pretty intense right now," Justin Curry said. "Coach wants us to stay humble and hungry, but of course we're excited too. But you've got to keep your eyes on the prize."
HERITAGE, CONYERS at FLOWERY BRANCH
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- HERITAGE (6-1, 4-1 Region 8-AAAAA): Defeated Clarke Central 23-20 last week.
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (5-2, 5-0 Region 8-AAAAA): Defeated Winder-Barrow 54-14 last week.
-- HISTORY: Flowery Branch won the last meeting, 21-13 in 2011. The Falcons lead the series 2-0.