Tuesday July 23rd, 2019 9:30AM

(VIDEO) Game of the Week: Branch set for shot at stardom vs. defending champs

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch football has re-established some lofty expectations under coach Ben Hall, ending a three-year barren streak in the playoffs with a second round berth in 2017.

On Friday, the Falcons will test their resurgence against the current gold standard in Class 4A when defending state champion and current No. 1 Blessed Trinity pays a visit to the Branch.

Both teams enter the showdown at 6-0, and the fifth-ranked Falcons know they have a chance to impress the entire state, as well as take a huge step forward in the race for Region 7-4A against the Titans.

They also know it will take a special effort to do so.

"We're going to have to avoid turnovers and big plays on special teams and just work to contain the big play and make them earn everything they get and try to control the ball," said Hall, now in his second season with the Falcons. "Offensively, we're going to have to have some big plays, and we're going to have to exploit some match-ups and try to big-play them when we can. But at the same time we can't live and die by the big play. We have to be able to control the ball."

The Branch has shown the ability to do both this season thanks to a mix of talent, experience and belief -- which was instilled during last season's postseason push.

"Last year we were kind of young, didn't have that much confidence," Falcons senior running back Zarian Brawner said. "Now it's like everybody's kind of hyped and have more confidence in themselves. Now we're trusting each other to do their job, as we're doing our job. Everybody's doing their job, and everything can get done."

Brawner and Jaizen Ellingham -- along with a stout offensive line -- are doing plenty of the heavy lifting in the Falcons' physical run game that is helping the Branch to average 43.3 points per game. Yet the Branch is also developing a consistent aerial threat to go alongside, as quarterback Elijah Gainey continues to gain confidence -- aided by a receiving corps that is proving far more than a one-man show. Senior Jalin Strown was already known as an explosive quantity, but DJ Brown and Connor Lawson are showing that defenses focus on Strown at their own peril.

That said, Blessed Trinity's ability -- especially on defense -- is something the Falcons have yet to face.

The Titans are third in all of Class 4A, having allowed just 56 points. And while the Branch is just three points behind in fourth, Blessed Trinity already has three victories over fellow top 10 teams under its belt. This will be the Falcons' first contest against a ranked team this season.

The Titans feature perhaps the most impressive linebacker corps in the state, led by Ohio State commit Steele Chambers (who also features as a running back) and former Georgia commit JD Bertrand (who leads the team in tackle). Meanwhile, defensive lineman JR Bivens (Middle Tennessee commit) is a hugely disruptive force up front.

"Across the board they're strong, but their linebacker corps is probably unmatched statewide," Hall said. "But the kids that aren't premier prospects for them are very, very good high school players. And then, offensively, they do what they do. They roll guys through. Most of their kids play both ways, like ours do, and they do a good job of controlling the ball and playing strong defense. And it's going to be a tough match-up."

But after rolling to its best start since 2011, Flowery Branch believes it is ready for perhaps the ultimate test -- certainly within its own classification and region.

"I think so far we've stayed really focused this week because in our eyes we know it's just another game and another opponent," Falcons junior linebacker Connor Mayfield said. "It's going to be a test for us; we know that, but it doesn't matter about all the other stuff that's going on around us. We're focused."


GAME of the WEEK: 

  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
  • WHERE: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch
  • RADIO: WDUN AM 550
  • BLESSED TRINITY (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-4A): Defeated Denmark 47-6 last week. The Titans are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A
  • BRANCH (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-4A) -- Defeated Chestatee 69-13 last week. The Falcons are ranked No. 5 in Class 4A
  • NOTABLE: This is the first meeting between the two teams. ... The Titans are the defending Class 4A state champions and have been a consensus No. 1 in the rankings all season. ... The Falcons reached the Class 5A second round last season in their first trip to the postseason in four years. ... Flowery Branch is off to its first 6-0 start since 2011. The Falcons entered this year's rankings after a Week Zero win over East Hall. ... Blessed Trinity has three wins over ranked teams so far this season in St. Pius, Woodward, Benedictine. The Titans' opponents combined record is 24-15. ... This will be Flowery Branch's first game against a ranked team this season. The Falcons' opponents so far this season have a combined record of 9-32. ... Blessed Trinity's state championship last season was its first -- though the Titans missed out on a fifth straight region title after falling to Marist, 25-24 in the regular season. BT got revenge in the state title game 16-7. ... The Titans enter the game with the No. 7 scoring attack in Class 4A at 40.5 points per game (243 total). BT is allowing 9.3 ppg (56 total) -- good for third in Class 4A. ... Flowery Branch is scoring 43.3 ppg (260 total), fifth in Class 4A. The Falcons are allowing 9.8 ppg (59 total), which is fourth in Class 4A. ... Blessed Trinity's offense is run-heavy on play selection with almost 36 rushes to 15 pass attempts per game, but the Titans are gaining an almost equal amount through the air as on the ground with 187.5 rush yards per game and 154.8 passing yards per contest. ... BT Sr. QB Jake Smith is completing 68 percent of his passes with 6 TDs and no interceptions. Sr. RB/LB Steele Chambers leads the team with 632 yards and 15 TDs. Six different Titans players have caught TD passes this season. ... Former Georgia commit JD Bertrand (Sr. LB) leads BT in tackles (36). Chambers is second with 24. Sr. DL JR Bivens (Middle Tennessee commit) has 19 tackles, 2 sacks and a blocked field goal. ... The Falcons, likewise, are blending the run and the pass, averaging 130 yards rushing and 144.6 yards passing per game. ... Jr. QB Elijah Gainey has one of the most explosive weapons in northeast Georgia in Sr. WR Jalin Strown to throw to, while Sr. WR DJ Brown and So. WR Connor Lawson have stepped up to ensure that defenses cannot key just on Strown. ... So. RB Jaizen Ellingham leads the team in carries and yards, and Sr. Zarian Brawner is just behind.
  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Flowery Branch football, Game of the Week
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