“First off guys, I am so proud of you. What you left out on the field tonight looked like a completely different football team than last week.”
That is what head coach Sid Maxwell said to his players in the postgame huddle Friday night, after falling short of pulling off an upset against 4-A Flowery Branch High School, with a final score of 45-42.
Friday night was not only the home opener for the Tigers but also senior night. The moms of the seniors on the team waited on the field as the Tigers jogged out of the locker room before the game.
After kicker Caleb Bonesteel kicked the ball off, the Flowery Branch Falcons were able to quickly move down the field and run the ball into the end zone for the first score of the game.
The Tigers responded immediately. Quarterback Zach Holtzclaw led the offense down the field with his arm, highlighted by a 30-plus yard pass to Dakota Sonnichsen and the touchdown pass to Tyler Lane. After Bonesteel’s extra point, the game stays tied 7-7 through the end of the first quarter.
Only seven seconds into the second quarter, Holtzclaw finds Jaden Gibson in the end zone for his second passing touchdown of the game. Bonesteel would miss the extra point, but the touchdown gave the Tigers the 13-7 lead.
The Falcons were unable to do anything on their offensive drive, giving the ball back to the Tigers. With eight minutes left in the half, Holtzclaw would get the ball in the hands of Isaiah Grindle on a screen pass and Grindle would dodge all defenders on his way into the endzone with the 47-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers held a 20-7 lead.
A field goal on the next offensive possession for the Falcons would make it 20-10. The Tigers had to punt their next time with the ball and the Falcons responded with a touchdown of their own. One last touchdown by the Falcons would find the Tigers losing at halftime, down 24-20.
Receiving the ball at the start of the second half, the Tigers were able to find a groove on offense, once again led by Holtzclaw’s arm. After a 24-yard completion to Sonnichsen, Tray Cohen went on a slant route to the left side of Holtzclaw, who found him for a 28-yard touchdown. The Tigers led 27-24 with 8:38 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons did not keep the ball for long, with Gibson snatching the ball out of the air for an interception on the first play of the drive for the Falcons.
The Tigers would only need two plays to capitalize on their momentum. On the first play, Holtzclaw and Gibson linked together for a 47-yard completion. That got Grindle close enough to run the ball in for his second touchdown of the day, giving the Tigers 14 unanswered points to start the second half.
In just a minute off the clock, the Falcons were able to drive down the field and score a touchdown of their own, making the score 34-31 with 5:46 left in the quarter.
After a 60 yard receiving touchdown by Sonnichsen was called back due to a block in the back, the Tigers nor the Falcons could score again in the third quarter.
However, the Falcons took the lead back on the first play of the fourth quarter. On the kickoff, Grindle would come off the field limping with an injury to his right thigh. He would not come back into the game.
Unable to put the ball into the end zone, the Tigers had to give the ball back to Flowery Branch with 10:46 left in the game.
The Falcons would not only bleed four and a half minutes off the clock, but would only run the ball into the end zone for their fourth rushing touchdown of the game. The game was 45-34 in favor of the Falcons with 6:05 left to play.
Conley Dyer would start the offense with a first down. Holtzclaw scrambled out of the pocket and ran for the first down, putting the Tigers in the red zone. After an incompletion, Holtzclaw would find Nic Baloga for his fifth passing touchdown of the game after none in the week 1 loss.
“He’s a great quarterback with a great arm,” Maxwell said after the game. “I think he probably had week one jitters cause he showed tonight what he can really do.”
Gibson would rush the ball in for a two-point conversion and the Tigers would only be down 45-42 with 3:00 left to play.
The Tigers were unsuccessful on their onside kick attempt. Brandon Lantz made a touchdown saving tackle on the Falcon’s first play, a 50-yard completion which set up first and goal.
The goal line defense played successfully, keeping the Falcons out of the end zone and giving the Tigers offense one last try with 28 seconds left. After two incompletions, the time would run out on a short completion to Lane.
Though the 45-42 loss weighed heavily on some players’ shoulders at the end of the game, Maxwell reminded his team about their tough non-region schedule.
“These games don’t matter a thing,” Maxwell said to his team in his postgame speech. “I scheduled these games so that we could get better before region play.”
Holtzclaw led the team with five touchdowns, but Grindle had a multi-touchdown game and Gibson was able to score a touchdown, convert a two-point conversion and record an interception.
The Tigers will play their toughest game of the season on paper next week against the 7-A South Forsyth War Eagles. The game will be on Friday, Sept. 18, in Dawson County, starting at 7:30 p.m.