Conyers Flowery Branch came in to Friday’s game at Heritage with an unbeaten record and a top-four state ranking thanks to a high-powered offense. And while the Falcons offense scored three times, it was the Hall County school’s defense that made the difference. In a match up of Region 8-AAAA’s final two unbeaten teams both ranked in the top 10, the Class AAAA No. 4 Falcons scored 14 first half points and held No. 9 Heritage's offense in check, including a fourth down stop with 20 seconds left to preserve a 21-13 victory.
While Flowery Branch moved to 7-0 and took over first place in the region, the Patriots, off to the best start in school history, dropped to 7-1.
“They have a good football team, (but) we played with these guys," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier. "We belong on the field with anybody, we just came up short."
The game, just the second between the schools, held special significance as Georgia Public Broadcasting was in Conyers to televise their Game of the Week in front of a rabid crowd at Charles Evans Memorial Stadium.
"Great crowd, great atmosphere. Playoff-type atmosphere," said Frazier.
Heritage made a miraculous come back with less than six minutes to go in the game. Trailing 21-0, Dominic Craft gave the hosts life with a 29-yard touchdown run, weaving in and out of traffic to cut the deficit to just two scores. The good fortune continued as Heritage executed a perfect on sides kick on the ensuing kick off as Chris Raines recovered his own kick. Three plays later, Craft’s nifty run from 37 yards made it a 21-13 game with four minutes left.
A Falcons punt gave Heritage one last chance to drive for the possible tying points, but after a pass interference call put the Patriots on the 11-yard line with less than a minute to go, a fourth-and-four run play by Quami Stanley came up short of the goal line.
Heritage trailed 14-0 at halftime, but got a spark on the opening kick off of the second half as Stanley’s 64-yard return got the Patriots to the Flowery Branch 32. But a split sack of Ryan Sutton by Jonathan Frick and Sydney Cheeks put an end to the drive. Heritage drove again on its next possession, getting a six-yard run from Stanley on fourth-and-two, but Stanley’s carry on fourth-and-inches was short and Flowery Branch took over late in the third quarter. Each team punted on the next two possessions and Flowery Branch put the game out of reach with a short, three-play drive, capped by Jeremy Haley’s six-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0.
Heritage had excellent field position on its first three possessions in the opening quarter, but couldn’t move the ball on the Falcons’ defense. After a second three-and-out, Flowery Branch’s offense got going in a hurry. On a third-and-four, Kanler Coker lofted a pass to Casey Osborne and the senior wide out went up and got the ball, making a great catch for 45 yards to set up the Falcons in Heritage territory. On the next play, Jeremy Haley found a seam and burst through it for a 32-yard touchdown to put the visitors up 7-0.
Patriots defensive back Denzel Hunter appeared to have recovered a fumble by Haley late in the second quarter, but officials ruled Haley was down before coughing up the ball. That gave Flowery Branch the break it needed, and two players later, from its own eight-yard line, Coker found C.J. Curry, who is verbally committed to Oklahoma State, for a 76-yard completion.
"Coach always says, put (the pass) up and make a catch," said Curry, who caught six passes for 152 yards.
After a short run, Coke found Curry again for a 14-yard touchdown and the Falcons went up 14-0.
The Heritage offense had trouble getting going in the first half despite the early field position and later, had a shot inside the Falcons’ 40-yard line, but the drive stalled. The Patriots collected just 64 total yards in the opening 24 minutes.
Heritage will try to bounce back next week when it plays Habersham Central and region player of the year candidate Kevin Ellison. Flowery Branch will host Loganville.