FLOWERY BRANCH – Flowery Branch knows the risks of scheduling tough teams outside the region. An 0-2 record to start the season is one of them.
The Falcons saw a 21-21 tie with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter quickly turn into a two-touchdown deficit, as West Forsyth scored twice in the final four minutes of the game to hold off Flowery Branch 35-21 on Friday at Falcon Field.
Flowery Branch shook off a 21-14 deficit at halftime and tied the game at 21 with 7:51 left to play on a 10-yard touchdown by Jeremiah Goss that reignited the Falcons’ chances. But West responded accordingly five minutes later when a 54-yard run by Gabe Pierce set up the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown run by Trevor O’Brien at the 3:54 mark.
The Falcons suffered the costliest of its four turnovers of the night on the ensuing drive. Quarterback Jackson McDonald’s pass bounced out of the hands of receiver A’lencio Graham and was pounced on by West Forsyth cornerback Jordan Harris before it hit the ground.
"Flowery Branch is a great team," West coach Frank Hepler said. "I know they’re well-conditioned and they’re well-coached. They showed resilience and tied it up, and we came back and got that score with a nice couple of runs."
The Wolverines wore the clock down to secure the win, and added an insurance touchdown with 59 seconds left to play after O’Brien’s 36-yard run lined his team up for a 12-yard score by quarterback Hampton McConnell.
The Wolverines outgained Flowery Branch 428-354 with 288 rushing yards and 140 yards through the air.
"That’s something we’ve been able to do for the last few years," Hepler said. "We tried to be a balanced offense. Our pass was pretty good — our protection was pretty good and some guys caught the ball that needed to."
Pierce highlighted West Forsyth’s offense with 108 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries, while O’Brien added 89 yards and a score on 89 carries.
McConnell was 11-of-19 passing for 140 yards, while rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Nearly half of the junior quarterback’s passing yards came on one play in the first quarter, a 63-yard catch by Kyran Ochocki that ended up being the longest play of the night. It set up Pierce’s first touchdown of the night with 27 seconds left in the quarter.
A missed extra point kept Flowery Branch up 7-6 after McDonald’s 4-yard touchdown run on the previous drive. The James Madison commit was 16-of-27 with 116 yards passing, but threw three interceptions.
He spent the Falcons first full drive of the second quarter handing the ball off to freshman running back Jeremiah Goss, who pounded out runs of 14, 22, 4 and 11 before punching in a 4-yard score midway through the quarter to put his team up 14-6.
West rattled off two scoring drives to close out the first half and steal the lead away from Flowery Branch. It capped a 77-yard drive with Pierce’s 6-yard touchdown, and tacked on a 2-point conversion from McConnell to Cole Staton to tie the game at 14 apiece.
The Wolverines took advantage of Flowery Branch’s 15-yard personal foul on their next possession to punch deep into Falcon territory, which allowed Pierce to give his team a 21-14 halftime lead on a 25-yard touchdown run.
"We knew it wasn’t going to be easy — we knew our guys were going to be put through a very difficult test," Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said. "We should be 2-0 right now. We played hard and made mistakes, and I felt like we were better than two weeks ago, but obviously not good enough. We’ll be fine."
West visits Starr’s Mill next Friday before region play begins, while Flowery Branch opens Region 8-AAAAA play when it hosts Cedar Shoals.