Friday May 27th, 2016 2:22AM

Flowery Branch ready to take on beast of a three seed in Stephenson (Video)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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FLOWERY BRANCH -- Flowery Branch would rather not follow arch-rival Gainesville if at all possible.

But if the Falcons can copy the Red Elephants in one fashion they would be more than happy to do so.

Last season, Gainesville finished as the No. 2 seed in Region 8-AAAAA en route to the Class AAAAA title.

Now the Falcons want to do the same.

"It really hit us knowing that Gainesville lost and they went and won state, and I think we can do the same thing," Flowery Branch defensive back Quinshad Jenkins said. "We just have to stay focused and not overlook any teams we play."

And that focus could be tested to the limit in the first round, as the Falcons play host to perennial power Stephenson.

(NOTE: To watch a video preview of the Stephenson at Flowery Branch playoff game, simply click "play" in the box to the right. The game will also be featured as WAGA-TV's Fox 5 Radio Call of the Week, with highlights that will feature on Fox 5 sports at 11 p.m.)

The Jaguars, who have reached the state playoffs in every season since 2000, making the quarterfinal round six times in that span -- including 2012 -- feature nine Football Bowl Subdivision commits on their roster and an extremely stingy defense, allowing just over 60 rush yards per game.

"They're very scary, extremely athletic. And there's not much size difference between their defensive line and their free safety -- they're all slender and athletic," Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said of the Jaguars. "They run hard and play physical. And they hang their hat on good defense and not making mistakes."

Stephenson finished as the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAAA by a total of seven points and were ranked inside the Class AAAAA top 10 for the majority of the regular season.

They are all factors that the Falcons respect -- but Flowery Branch is by no means in awe. In fact, the Falcons are excited about the opportunity and are gunning to get back into the second round of state after missing out for the first time in five seasons in 2012.

"We're feeling pretty good; we wanted to be the one seed (from Region 8-AAAAA), and it didn't happen for us, but we're happy to get the two seed and play at home," Griffin said. "That means a lot to us, especially for these seniors. And I think the biggest thing right now is to get to round two."

To do that, the Falcons will have to find a way to move the ball against a Stephenson defense that includes 6-foot-3 defensive end Chauncey Rivers (a South Carolina commit), safety Jared Tucker (a Kentucky commit) and highly recruited underclassman defensive tackle Javon Barnes.

Yet if the Falcons can reproduce the same tenacity and focus that they displayed in the second half of last week's 55-45 defeat at Gainesville, they have little doubt they can find success.

Flowery Branch rolled up 31 points in the second half against the Red Elephants, scoring on all but two drives and mixing the pass and run with equal effectiveness.

“I challenged them at halftime. A lot of people thought that was out of reach (the Falcons trailed 35-14 at the half), but we knew different. I thought our guys showed a tremendous amount of character and integrity. They bowed their back, and we had a chance," Griffin said. "We feel like if we go out there and play with that type of intensity and emotion and we're getting after it from the very first whistle -- we can't till the fourth quarter -- if our guys do that Stephenson will have its hands full."

The key could be the play of quarterback Jackson McDonald, who compiled 302 total yards and five touchdowns in the win -- and an offensive line that has the ability to dominate.

"Our offense has clicked tremendously," Falcons senior receiver A'lencio Graham said. "Our O-line and Jackson (McDonald), they're on pace with everything, and our receivers are catching the ball and running great routes. We're going to have come out there and play fast, and do what we do best."

Meanwhile, the Falcons defense will look to corral a Stephenson offense that looks to the ground game first. Paced by Vanderbilt-bound running back Dallas Rivers (930 yards rushing), the Jaguars have rushed for over 1,600 yards. Yet quarterbacks Giovonni Weekley and Dewann Ford are also dangerous passers and will look to throw the ball downfield to a sizable group of receivers.

"Mainly we have to stop the run," Jenkins said. "Their receivers are 6-foot-4, 6-3, 6-5, but I think if we stop the run, we'll be good the whole game. We're kind of mad that we gave up 55 points to Gainesville. That's a pretty good team, but on defense we're just trying to come out against Stephenson and hold them to the lowest point total we can."

Do that and another state playoff run from a No. 2 seed from 8-AAAAA will be well and truly underway.

-- WHAT: Class AAAAA football playoff game, first round
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch
-- RADIO: AM 550
-- STEPHENSON (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 6-AAAAA): Defeated North Atlanta 64-6 last week.
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAAA): Lost 55-45 to No. 3 Gainesville last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: North Paulding vs. Riverwood winner in second round
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