The running game delivered a big 32-7 win for Stephens County High School against Flowery Branch High School Friday at Falcon Field.
Junior running back Javin Gordon carried the ball 27 times for 194 yards and two scores, outpacing his 20-carry, 138-yard, two-touchdown performance last year against the Falcons (2-1).
The Indians improved to 3-0 win the victory and have continued to lean on Gordon, who also added 73 yards on three receptions, as a centerpiece of their offense.
“He can do pretty much anything you need him to do. It’s obviously no surprise to us, him getting out there and having a great performance,” Indians Head Coach Wes Tankersley said. “He’s definitely the key part of our offense.”
Senior back Omari Feaster (9 carries, 57 yards) tacked on the only other offensive touchdown for SCHS.
Junior kicker Luke Waters knocked through 38 and 31 yard field goals to round out the offensive scoring.
Up 20-7 coming out of halftime, the Indians started with the ball. But a fumble by junior quarterback Tripp Underwood turned the ball over to the home team.
On a 4th-and-11 play at the SCHS 40-yard line, Falcons senior quarterback Josh Oliver lobbed up a pass that hung in the air just long enough for SCHS sophomore safety Davon Swinton to snag the ball and run the other way. Swinton went all but untouched for the score.
FBHS Head Coach Jason Tester said Oliver was frustrated on the pick-6 because of the wide receiver’s route breaking down, which led to the interception, rather than the turnover itself.
Oliver finished the contest 14-of-33 for 160 yards through the air and 11 carries for 40 yards on the ground. The pick-6 was one of three interceptions on the night.
“Josh is a competitor. He bought a lot of time and he kept his eyes downfield,” Tester said. “He gave us an opportunity at times. Then there were times where, based on the situation, I think he pressed a little bit.”
Junior running back Malik Dryden scored the lone touchdown of the game for FBHS.
Dryden took the ball on the first play of the second offensive drive for the Falcons but lost two yards on the play.
A false start moved FBHS back to their own 28-yard line, but the subsequent play saw Dryden go 72 yards to the endzone for an early lead.
Tester gave credit to the Indians for making adjustments to keep Dryden in check in the second half.
SCHS did better than keeping Dryden in check. They all but shut him down.
Of his 17 carries and 118 yards he totaled in the game, 13 of those attempts and 117 of his yardage all came in the first half.
Tester said he felt his running back was doing all he could to get extra yardage, but might not have been getting enough help from blockers.
“Malik is continuing to work downfield and our linemen are starting to look and find out where he’s at. That’s not their assignment,” Tester said. “Their assignment is to block through the whistle, to sustain and continue to move, just grind.
“There’s going to be a good butt chewing during film because Malik is doing everything he’s supposed to,” he continued. We had several plays on the perimeter of missed blocks by receivers and, honestly, it was just Stephens being the aggressor. That’s not how we play. That’s not how we coach our kids. They know that.”
The Falcons totaled 224 yards on offense in the first half, but the aforementioned adjustments by SCHS held the home team to just 86 yards after halftime.
For the Indians, Underwood didn’t have to do too much through the air.
The signal-caller ended the night 7-of-12 with 149 yards. He only threw the ball twice in the second half, both of which were incomplete.
“Especially that first half, I thought he played well and had some good throws and did some really good things,” Tankersley said. “The first three games, he’s had really great command of the offense and has done a really great job for us.”
Tankersley’s team will head back to Toccoa and begin to prepare for a winless Dawson County team to come to The Reservation next week.
For the coach, if his team wants to achieve its goals of winning the region championship again and get back to the playoffs, they have to keep working.
“It’s not getting complacent and understanding these are all non-region games and we’ve got to continue to get better for region play,” Tankersley said. “That’s really all that matters in the end is how we do in region and trying to get to the playoffs, get the best seeding we can and try to win a region championship.”
Tester’s crew will turn its focus to a bye week, but the team shouldn’t expect an easy week from the staff.
“We’re going to challenge them,” Tester said. “Our ‘Branch Built’ approach in how we challenged them at the end of last season in the mental and physical aspect, we’re going to be honest with them and they know that. They appreciate that.
“There’s a lot of tough love in there and they know at the end of the day, they matter. Our time with them, we value that,” he continued.
Following the game, the head man called his team out, recalling last season’s result of the game against the Indians that started the Falcons on a seven-game losing streak.
“That was the question I asked them,” Tester said. “I asked them, ‘Are you the team that, last year, peaked at 2-0?’
“I think this is something that, they’re definitely disappointed, but it doesn’t define us,” he continued. “This team is different. They’re going to respond the way they choose to respond on how they take good coaching. They’re going to be ready.”
The Indians host Dawson County on Sept. 8 at The Reservation.
The Falcons will get back into action on Sept. 15 when they travel to play Lambert.