FLOWERY BRANCH -- One down, two to go... and it only gets harder every week.
That's the situation Flowery Branch football finds itself in this week, as the Falcons travel to face Clarke Central.
One week after disposing of fellow Region 8-AAAAA title challengers Heritage in a 35-27 comeback win, Flowery Branch will travel to face a Gladiators program it has yet to defeat.
Find a way to do that, and the Falcons (6-2, 6-0 Region 8-AAAAA) will set themselves up for a de facto 8-AAAAA championship game with rival Gainesville on Nov. 9 in Flowery Branch.
Knocking off Clarke Central will be anything but easy, however, and even though the Gladiators hold a 3-4 overall record, 3-2 in 8-AAAAA, those region defeats came against No. 5 Gainesville and in overtime against Heritage -- when the Gladiators were missing five starters through suspension.
Earlier this week, Access North Georgia.com sports editor Morgan Lee caught up withe the Falcons to talk about Friday's big showdown in Athens. To watch the presentation, simply scroll down and click "play."
"They're faster and stronger than Heritage by far," said Falcons senior defensive back Quinton Mayfield of Clarke Central. "Our keys right now are to stop their running back and quarterback. If we can do that we can win."
Stopping the explosive Gladiators attack has not been easy in the past for Flowery Branch, which fell 21-0 to Clarke Central in 2010 and 38-35 in 2011. Both outcomes denied the Falcons outright region championships -- though Flowery Branch did share the 2011 8-AAAA crown with the Gladiators and Heritage.
This year's Gladiators team features plenty of firepower in running back Jalani Payne and quarterback Cameron Johnson. Yet Flowery Branch is relishing the opportunity -- especially with the memory of those two losses very much in the team's collective memory banks.
"I've played against Clarke Central since we started playing them in the region a couple of years ago," Mayfield said. "They took the region championship from us last year, and we want revenge on them."
To avenge those defeats, Flowery Branch knows it must avoid digging the early hole it put itself in against Heritage, as turnovers helped the visiting Patriots to a 21-point halftime advantage.
"I think (after last week) they realized they can't put themselves in a hole early on, because the games are getting tougher and harder each week," Falcons coach Chris Griffin said. "Hopefully they learned a lesson when they were able to overcome it."
Flowery Branch stormed back into the lead with 29 third quarter points -- over a span of about four minutes -- showing an explosiveness that has caught a number of teams this season.
"We're a ticking time bob, ready to go off," Falcons quarterback Jackson McDonald said. "Our offense has scored 50 points in some games, some just 21. It's all about momentum. If we get rolling, we feel like no one can stop us. In every game adversity will hit you, and you've got to roll through it. We did a good job of that last week."
If the Falcons can do so again this week, they will be looking at step three and possibly an even tougher task -- one that they'll doubtless relish. But right now Flowery Branch is just focused on getting to that step.
NOTES: Both offenses are multiple with an edge toward the run game. And both defenses like to attack, shift and blitz with an aim at confusing opposing quarterbacks. ... Clarke Central enters the contest averaging 30.7 points per game on offense and giving up 23.6. ... Flowery Branch is scoring 33.4 ppg and allowing 23.3.
FLOWERY BRANCH at CLARKE CENTRAL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Billy Henderson Stadium, Athens
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (6-2, 6-0 Region 8-AAAAA): Defeated Heritage, Conyers, 35-27 last week.
-- CLARKE CENTRAL (3-4, 3-2 Region 8-AAAAA): Lost to Gainesville 49-28 last week.
-- HISTORY: Clarke Central won the last meeting, 38-35 in 2011. The Gladiators lead the series 2-0.