FLOWERY BRANCH -- Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin really wanted to know just how good his Class AAAAA sixth-ranked Falcons were. He found out Friday night against No. 2 Northside-Warner Robins in both teams' season opener.
Griffin liked what he saw in the first half but then watched in horror as his team got rolled in the second half as the Eagles ran away with a stunning 45-7 win.
"The first half was good, the second half was not so good," he said. "We just didn't execute like we needed and you can't do that against a team as good as (Northside). We found out we can move the ball and stop a good team. But we also found out what happens when we don't make tackles and do the little things."
The game was tied 7-7 at halftime but Northside scored 21 points in a six-minute span in the third quarter to blow the game open. Flowery Branch never recovered and Northside put the game away with a long touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 35-7 lead.
Two of the Eagles' scores came on third-and-long plays where the Falcons let the ballcarrier break loose into an empty secondary. Another was set up by a fumble deep in the Falcons territory.
Griffin, who said earlier in the week he expects his defense to be the strength of the team, said he was not overly concerned despite allowing 324 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. The Eagles had six players pile up 30 or more yards in the game.
"We were in the right spots just about every time but didn't make the plays," he said. "You have to do the little things and that was what really cost us in the second half. Penalties, a big turnover, and then missed tackles and suddenly we're down 28 points. They took advantage of our mistakes."
Northside coach Kevin Kinsley said they just kept doing what they do best: run the ball.
"We used a couple of different formations in the second half to find the looks we wanted and it worked out," Kinsley said. "After we got that first score in the third quarter I think the whole team kind of relaxed and then we got the turnover and I think that was a huge momentum swing."
The Eagles opened the second half with a long drive capped on 4-yard run from Curtis Martin. After they held the Falcons to a three-and-out, Marcus Ivory, who came in for one play after starter Glenn Smith was knocked out by a tremendous hit from the Falcons' Jacob Allen, connected on an 18-yard touchdown pass with Keshun Hill for a 21-7 lead.
The game completely turned on the Falcons' next play when Jackson McDonald was stripped and the Eagles recovered at the Flowery Branch 20. Adonis Mace then scored on the next play to make it a 28-7 lead.
"The fumble hurt because I felt we could still move the ball. If we can go down and score we're still in it. But, again, we just made too many mistakes," Griffin said.
Northside got two late scores against the Falcons' second defensive unit.
The first half was much different. The Eagles came out strong stopping the Falcons on a three-and-out and then scored on an apparent 53-yard pass from Smith to Brian Dyson on their third play of the game. But the touchdown was called back on a penalty and Flowery Branch forced a punt.
Northside would stop the Falcons again on three straight plays and then grabbed a 7-0 lead on a 40-yard screen pass from Smith to Hill, who broke three tackles in the backfield before breaking loose and sprinting to the end zone less than six minutes into the game.
The Flowery Branch offense was forced to punt again on its next possession and then Falcons defense started to take control. The Falcons forced their first three-and-out of the Eagles offense and gave the offense good field position.
The Flowery Branch offense did not waste it driving 63-yards in 10 plays, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from McDonald to Cameron Davis, who fought off two Northside defenders for the ball to tie the game with 10:55 left in the half.
Northside would take its next possession to the Flowery Branch 5 but Isaac Rivera pushed a 22-yard field goal attempt wide left. Both defenses then controlled the rest of the half as neither team could produce a first down before halftime.
McDonald finished his first-ever varsity start for the Falcons going 18-for-32 for 120 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Chris Dilidili had seven catches for 26 yards, Davis had five catches for 38 yards and one TD, and Jamaad Stephens and Justin Curry had three catches apiece for Flowery Branch. Curry also led the Falcons in rushing with 27 yards on nine carries.
"I thought Jackson had a good game considering," Griffin said. "He showed poise and didn't panic. I think he's going to get better and better. We're just going to get ready for the next one."
NOTES: The Eagles ran their road winning streak to 11 going back to the 2009 season