FLOWERY BRANCH — With just over 12 minutes remaining, Flowery Branch's first foray into the playoffs in four years looked like a formality.
Leading Kell 21-0 in the first round of the Class AAAAA bracket, the Falcons were cruising toward a Sweet 16 berth. But the postseason is rarely as easy as it looks, and the Longhorns came up with some late questions for the hosts.
The Branch provided the answers, however, including a goal-line stand inside the final minute to preserve a 21-14 victory.
The Falcons (9-2) hauled down Kell quarterback Evan Conley just inches shy of the goal line -- on fourth and goal from the 10 -- to force a turnover on downs and seal the victory, which sends the Branch to Carver (Atlanta) next week for a second round showdown.
The Branch will hope for something more like its second and third quarters next week. After a scoreless first quarter, the Branch got going just before the half, as Malik Damons bowled into the end zone from two yards for a 7-0 lead. It was the first of two scores on the night for Damons, who also rushed for 111 yards -- almost half of the Falcons offensive total on the night. Flowery Branch also passed for 110 yards, as Elijah Gainey completed 5 of 11 attempts for a score and two interceptions.
Gainey hooked up with Isaiah Nazaire for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter before Damons scored again from two yards to make it 21-0 just before the fourth quarter.
A desparate Kell offense finally found its scoring touch in the final stanza, however, as Dre Houston and Josiah Futral each ripped off touchdown runs to pull within 21-14 with 5:02 remaining. Unable to clinch the game on offense, the Falcons defense came to the fore -- and after watching Conley complete 21 of 37 passes for 217 yards, the Branch denied the quarterback on the ground at just the right time. And while he finished with 57 yards rushing, the lack of a 58th proved crucial.