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Patriots host Falcons in marquee match up

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

IF YOU GO

• Who: Flowery Branch Falcons (6-0) at Heritage Patriots (7-0)

• When: Tonight, 8:00 p.m.

• Where: Charles Evans Memorial Stadium, Conyers

• Last week: Flowery Branch defeated Habersham Central 56-31; Heritage defeated Winder-Barrow, 21-0

• Series: Flowery Branch leads 1-0

• Last season: Flowery Branch won 31-7

It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that Oct. 14 is shaping up to be one of the biggest days the Heritage High School football team will ever experience.

As the sun sets on Granade Road this evening, two unbeaten teams -- Class AAAA No. 4 Flowery Branch and the No. 9 Patriots -- get together in what could end up being the de-facto Region 8-AAAA championship game.

For the visiting Falcons, in just their second season in Region 8 and 10th overall as a program, the 2011 season is just another in a recent stretch of great football.

The Hall County school, which has only known one head coach -- Lee Shaw -- went 6-24 in its first three seasons, but it'ssafe to say the outlook has been brighter since. Starting with the 2005 season, the Falcons have gone 68-15 (including a 6-0 start this season) and been to the playoffs each year, including a trip to the Class AAA state finals in 2008: A daunting task to say the least.

"Every year they have top players move in and fill some holes, but they always get these move-ins and their coaching staff does a good job of coaching them up," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier. "They've got a lot of resources; the last five or six years, they've been winning a lot of ball games. Those younger kids have learned how to win and how to win consistently, so they've got a good program going."

"We had a little success early this year and confidence builds; it should be a fun night," said Heritage athletic director Chuck Landy. "We played Flowery Branch tough up there last year and we competed hard against them. This one's huge."

Frazier seems to have his program headed in the right direction as well. The fifth-year coach went just 12-18 in his first three seasons at the Conyers school, but last season the Patriots went 7-4 and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2004.

The 2011 campaign has been an eye-opener for a lot of East Metro football fans. After last weekend's win over Winder-Barrow, Heritage is 7-0 for the first time in school history. In fact, the last Patriots team to even start 5-0 was Landy's 1998 team, which slumped to a 7-3 finish.

The Patriots have been rewarded for their perfect start as Georgia Public Broadcasting will be in Conyers to broadcast the showdown as its Game of the Week.

"We are expecting a playoff atmosphere and are treating it as such," said Shaw. "We are excited about this game."

"We're excited about the opportunity to be in this position, having taken care of our games on the schedule," Frazier said. "All our hard work is paying off, and now we have the opportunity to possibly play for a region championship."

Frazier and Landy emphasized the importance of having this marquee game in the cozy confines of Charles Evans Memorial Stadium.

While Flowery Branch is a formidable opponent no matter where they play, Heritage has been excellent when not having to travel, riding a 10-game home winning streak dating back nearly two full years.

"It's huge and it's nice to have it at home," Frazier said. "We play well at home, so it's a big deal to play this one at home, especially. I think we have a beautiful stadium and it's going to be televised. Any time our program gets exposure like it has, it's ... great. I don't know how many people knew about Heritage football until this year. (It) means a lot to us."

"To have that opportunity on our field, it was nice we can play it at home," added Landy. "We'll have a chance to play for a region championship on our field, it'll be fun."