Falcon Field will be the site this Friday night to determine this year’s Region 8-5A champion. The Flowery Branch Falcons and the Gainesville Red Elephants will renew their rivalry when they meet for the first time in three years. Gainesville made the jump from Region 8-3A to 5A and Flower Branch jumped from 4A before the season began. These teams last met in 2009 in the state semifinals when Gainesville defeated the Falcons, 29-21, before losing to Peach County in the finals. The Red Elephants have won the last three meetings and is 7-2 in the all-time series that started back in 2002.
The Gainesville Red Elephants went 12-2 last season on their way to claiming the Region 8B-3A title. Their season ended when they lost in the state playoffs to the eventual state champs, Burke County. The Red Elephants have made the transition to 5A quite smooth and have 7-2 record to show for it. The Red Elephants sit just a game behind Flowery Branch and could capture the Region 8-5A title with a win. Deshaun Watson (committed to Clemson) leads the high-flying Red Elephant’s spread offense. In 2011, Watson threw for over 3,200 yards and 41 TDs to go with over 1,000 yards and 16 TDs on the ground in an offense that averaged over 40 points per game. This year the offense is averaging just over 45 points per game. Sophomore Michael Byrd heads the running attack, along with junior Jay Gaudlock. Gaudlock returned this season after he suffered a broken leg that ended his season early last year. Watson will target Keyontra Harrison, Lahius Leverette and Caleb Hayman as his primary receivers. Fred Payne returned as the leader of the defense at the safety position. TK Mize and Lewis Cousins will try and shut down the Falcon receivers at cornerback. The linebacking unit is led by Devon Stringer and Michael Pittman. The Red Elephants have won four straight region titles, going 48-6 over those four years. They enter Friday’s game as the Rivals.com’s #64 team in the nation.
The Flowery Branch Falcons went 11-2 in 2011 to record their fourth straight season of double digit wins. The Falcons’ season ended when they lost to Tucker in the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs. Last year’s season is gone and so too is the Falcons head coach Lee Shaw. Longtime defensive coordinator Chris Griffin stepped into the helm of the Falcon football program to begin the 2012 season, and the transition has been seamless. The Falcons are 7-2 on the season and are one win away from winning the Region 8-5A title. Jackson McDonald stepped in at quarterback in his first season as a starter for the Falcons. He has had the luxury of good protection from his offensive line that returned four of the five starters from last season. The receivers he will target are Jamaad Stephens, Cris Dilidili and Darius Curry. Sophomore Justin Curry has stepped up as the starting running back. Curry rushed for 141 yards and 2 TDs in last weekend’s big win over Clarke Central. On defense, Jacob Allen returns in the middle as linebacker. Allen was the leading tackler on the team a season ago. Joining him will be Blake Turner, Gabe Takacs and Kris Smith. Curry will man the secondary at cornerback. Curry is ranked as Rivals.com’s 46th best cornerback prospect and is committed to play at Oklahoma State. Justin Thomson and Noel Padmore will fill in the secondary.
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