FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall has been through it three times this season.
The Region 7-4A gauntlet -- a trek that had stops against then top-ranked Marist, No. 4 ranked Blessed Trinity and No. 9 ranked Denmark. So playing another top-ranked team in the state, again, is nothing new to the Falcons.
As a matter of fact, as Hall says, it has prepared them for the state playoffs.
The Falcons will travel to No. 1-ranked Cartersville tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and can be heard live on AM 550 WDUN.
“I was talking to Coach (Conor) Foster at Cartersville and we both agreed that it’s a shame we have to lock horns in the first round with our two regions,” Hall said. “Because if you look at the four guys on that side and the four on this side, it's an impressive group. And, unfortunately, half of those going to be sitting out next week. But it has prepared us for the playoffs, and we're better program having played the schedule we played.”
The Falcons are in search of their first playoff win since 2011 under then-coach, Lee Shaw. The Falcons advanced to the quarterfinals that year.
But it’s an old habit for the Purple Hurricanes. Cartersville’s resume includes an impressive 50-game regular-season win streak since 2015 and is 15-2 in the playoffs, including Class 4A runner-up honors in 2018.
"It’s very similar to past weeks,” Hall said about the week of preparation for Cartersville. “The kids have been great. They’re excited about the opportunity to be able to play in an atmosphere like Cartersville tomorrow night. They’ve had a great week.
The Falcons were forced to shift offensive focus when senior QB and South Alabama-commit, Elijah Gainey, went down before the season started. The identity of the Falcons' offense quickly turned to the run game that featured two talented running backs and, so far, it’s been a pretty good move. Chandler White (109-671-8) and Jaizen Ellingham (157 carries, 1,018 yards, 18 TDs) have combined for almost 1,900 yards of offense and 26 touchdowns.
Cartersville brings in Louisville-commit, Tee Webb. The 3-star QB is 12th on the state’s passing leaderboard with 2,198 yards and 22 touchdowns. He’s connected with Devonte Ross, his top target, 36 times for 808 yards and nine TDs. Sam Phillips is the Canes No. 2 receiver with 41 catches for 591 yards and 7 TDs.
They’ll also try to balance things out with running back, Quante Jennings. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 376 yards, but expect a steady rotation of five running backs tonight.
"We have to do a better job underneath this week," Hall said. "They have quality receivers and a good run game. So they are balanced. Tee Webb is the second Power 5 quarterback that we've seen in the last two weeks (Denmark QB Aaron McLaughlin). So, I think last week's game (34-14 loss to No. 9 Denmark) will help prepare us for this week."
On the flip side of that, both defenses bring power and are stingy. Cartersville is ranked fourth in points given up with just 12.1, and Flowery Branch gives up 12.9 -- seventh-best in Class 4A.
"We just have to play loose," Hall said. "There's freedom in a game like this. You can't play not to lose the game and you can't think of it as, well if you don't win, it's the last game. We just need to go out there and lay it on the line and play our brand of football ... be physical on the line of scrimmage -- that will never change -- protect the football and we have to avoid giving up the big play. If we do that, it’ll be a four-quarter game, and we’ve got a shot."
To watch the full interview with Ben Hall, click play.