Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart described the opening night of Region 8-4A play as "moving day at The Masters."
While the Jefferson-Flowery Branch game is the biggest around the area Friday night, Madison County, who is 3-1, plays North Oconee (1-3) and East Hall plays Cedar Shoals.
There will be a three-way tie at the top of the standings after Week 6. But when you have the top-ranked Dragons and seventh-ranked Flowery Branch opening against each other, all that other stuff kind of goes out the window.
“If they come out on top, they’re in the driver’s seat for the region title as well,” Cathcart said. “But I think this Friday we've got us and Flowery Branch, and then you've got Madison County taking on North Oconee. So, it's kind of like moving day at The Masters, so to speak, to see who's going to get the inside track.”
Who wins this game has the inside track to the Region 8-4A championship -- last year proved the theory right. The two region foes will battle on Friday at Memorial Stadium in Jefferson. Kickoff is set for 7:30 and can be heard live on AM 550 WDUN.
"Anytime you play a region opener, it is big,” Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall said. “And against the No. 1 team in the state, it's a big game. You know, we've played this kind of game for the last three or four years. In the regions that we have been in over the years, we’ve seemed to face the No. 1 team in the state a time or two. So, our kids are up to the challenge and are looking forward to it.”
Last year, the Falcons outgained the Dragons 313-310 and had balance running and passing (166 passing, 147 rushing), while the Dragons did not complete a pass and had zero yards. Branch had fewer turnovers (2:1) and controlled the time of possession 28:34 to 17:11. But the Dragons dominated where it mattered most, with big plays and big defensive stops in taking a 40-10 win at Falcons Field.
Malaki Starks ran for 131 yards and two touchdowns to lead a 313-yard rushing attack for Jefferson. But the Dragons defense stuffed the Falcons (3-2, 0-1 Region 8-4A) on a goal-line stand to end the first half and later blocked a field goal attempt that was scooped up for a touchdown to essentially put the game out of reach at 26-3 with just over 17 minutes left.
With the addition of sophomore running back Sammy Brown (103.8 yards rushing per game), who’s a four-star Power 5 recruit, the Dragons’ offense has been brutal to defend.
Hall said preventing the big play will be a major key to the game, but defending the number of explosive guys is even bigger.
“Well, we have to be able to tackle their explosive athletes in space,” Hall said. “We can't turn those guys loose because when they get their shoulders turned downhill, we will be in trouble.”
Flowery Branch quarterback David Renard was 19-of-32 for 166 yards against the Dragons last year, while Myles Ivey churned out 127 yards on 28 carries. The two have been the Falcons' 1-2 punch along with Malik Dryden in 2021, guiding the Falcons' offense to a 38 points per game average.
"Ben does a great job and they are so well-coached," Cathcart said. "Renard is back, all-region player last year, and is one of those guys that is better in person than he is on film. He's not the biggest guy but very elusive on the field. They've got three backs that, I think, combined for 250 yards against Hiram last week. Ben does a great job of mixing the play actions off the running game, and then when you have folks covered, Renard does such a good job of scrambling around and making plays with his feet, so it's a great challenge for us."
FLOWERY BRANCH at JEFFERSON
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- RADIO: WDUN AM 550
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (3-1, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Ranked No. 7 in Class 4A; defeated Hiram 56-0 last week
-- JEFFERSON (4-0, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Ranked No. 1 in Class 4A; off last week; defeated Mountain View 41-14 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Jefferson leads series 3-0. The Dragons won 40-10 in 2020 in Flowery Branch. All four meetings have been since 2016. ... It has not been a kind series for the Falcons, who have been outscored 108-39 in the first three games. ... The Dragons are rested and are 5-0 following an off week under coach Gene Cathcart. They also have won 15 straight home games going back to a season-opening loss to Oconee County in 2019. ... The Falcons are 6-2 in their last 8 road games, though they dropped their last road game two weeks ago to Gainesville. ... Jefferson is 8-2 in their last 10 games vs. ranked opponents. Branch is 1-5 in its last 6 matchups vs. ranked teams. However, the Falcons knocked off St. Pius on the road to open the season. ... Both offenses have been potent in 2021 with the Dragons 5th (150, 37.5 ppg) using a power option attack and Branch 7th (143, 35.7 ppg) in Class 4A using a more balanced run-pass offense. Both will put pressure on two outstanding defenses. ... The Jefferson defense is 10th in Class 4A (41 points, 10.2 ppg) while the Falcons are giving up 15.7 ppg (63 points) but 42 came in a loss to Gainesville.