Posted: Friday, August 31st 2012 at 5:23pm
Griffin, Falcons ready for challenge of Northside
By Jeff Hart Staff
FLOWERY BRANCH – New Flowery Branch head coach Chris Griffin said Friday night’s season-opener against perennial state power Northside-Warner Robins couldn’t have gotten here any sooner.
“With all the changes and the practices and just trying to get settled with all the responsibilities of being the head coach, I’m just ready to get out on the field and play somebody,” he said.
It won’t just be anybody, however, as the Eagles, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA in the first poll of the season, are one of the state’s most successful programs over the past 15 years. The last time Northside failed to win at least 10 games in a season was in 1998 and they are coming off a trip to the Class AAAA semifinals in 2011.
And, some have questioned whether the Falcons, who are ranked sixth in Class AAAAA and coming off a trip to the third round of the Class AAAA playoffs, should have taken on such a daunting task right out of the gate after losing their fourth straight Division I quarterback, their top rusher from last year, and, maybe just as important, their head coach (Lee Shaw) and offensive coordinator (Benjie Harrison).
“There are some who think that playing a team like Northside in the first week is not necessarily the thing to do at this point in the season,” Griffin said. “But, we feel like we’re one of the top teams in the state and we want to see where we are and what we need to do to get to that next level. A game like this will help us get there. We’ll find out a lot about ourselves after (Friday).”
It will be a game of contrasting styles to say the least.
The Eagles have traditionally been a bruising ground attack team with a crushing defense. Senior Curtis Martin is expected to get most of the carries and is coming off a 700-yard-plus season with 15 touchdowns as the Eagles’ No. 2 option from last year. The Northside defense allowed 17 more points just twice in 2011 and has the bulk of its unit returning.
The Falcons have employed a wide-open, spread offense that likes to throw first and run second. Junior Jackson McDonald takes over the quarterback reins and will have significant talent in seniors Jamaad Stephens (33 catches, 474 yards, 5 TDs in 2011), Cris Dilidili (16 catches, 251 yards, 2 TDs) and Darius Curry to throw too.
The loss of Harrison, who is now the head coach at Jackson County, may be where the Falcons see the most change, especially during the game. The Falcons averaged 44 points a contest in 2011.
“Benjie always had a great game plan,” Griffin said. “We haven’t changed the offense but the difference is during the game and how you call the plays and what you are trying to do. We have a solid game plan and we have confidence in everyone here. I’m looking forward to see how we do against a great defense like Northside.”
The Flowery Branch defense was solid last year but was exploited in the final regular season game and the playoffs with a bend-but-don’t-break mentality. Against some of the top offenses in Class AAAA in the playoffs, they allowed more than 34 points a game.
Griffin said the game will come down to which defense makes the most plays.
“I expect to see points scored by both teams and the game will hinge on four or five key plays or opportunities,” he said. “Most of those will be when the defenses have a chance to get a big stop or a turnover. That will determine the game.
Senior linebacker Jacob Allen led the team in tackles as a junior and will be joined by Blake Turner, Gabe Takacs, and Kris Smith for a solid group. Division I recruit Curry will man one cornerback spot, while Justin Thomson, Noel Padmore and Mayfield also will play key roles for the Falcons.
But Griffin, who is in his first head coaching job after leading the Falcons defense for the last several years, said they wanted to play a team like Northside to see where they are and what they need to do, especially starting with the man at top.
“There’s no book or rules on how to be a head coach and the responsibilities you have are even more than you imagine when you take over a program. It’s been a learning experience from Day One,” Griffin said. “After months of overseeing everything and making sure we have that and go here and deal with that, I’m ready to see how I’ve done and what I need to work on or improve to keep this program moving forward and upward. I can’t wait to step on that grass and just be able to think about nothing but the next play or series. That’s the fun part of the game and it can’t get here fast enough.”
NORTHSIDE, WARNER ROBINS at FLOWERY BRANCH
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch
-- NORTHSIDE (0-0, Region 2-AAAAA) -- went 11-2 in 2011, reaching the Class AAAA quarterfinals. The Eagles are ranked second in Class AAAAA.
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (0-0, Region 8-AAAAA) -- went 13-1 in 2011, reaching the Class AAAA semifinals. The Falcons are ranked sixth in Class AAAAA.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams’ first meeting.
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