Posted: Tuesday, December 9th 2008 at 5:01am
Dome-bound: Connor Shaw says belief key to Falcons playoff form
By Morgan Lee Editor
Flowery Branch quarterback Connor Shaw will lead his team into the Class AAA championship game on Saturday in Atlanta. / photo: North Georgia Sports Media
With just five days remaining until the Class AAA state championship game, Flowery Branch’s football team can truly say this has been a magical season.
The Falcons have come a long way from starting 0-1 and then finishing third in Region 7-AAA. Saturday at the Georgia Dome, Flowery Branch (12-2) will become the first team from Hall County since Gainesville’s 1982 squad to play for a GHSA state football crown when the Falcons face Cairo at 5 p.m.
A big part of the Falcons march to the Dome this season has been the maturation of quarterback Connor Shaw. The junior got his first taste of varsity experience under center this year and has become one of the standouts for an explosive Flowery Branch offense that is averaging 31.5 points per game in the playoffs.
After taking over for his brother, star quarterback Jaybo Shaw -- now at Georgia Tech -- Connor’s ability to run and scramble, combined with a big arm, has allowed Flowery Branch to be multi-dimensional and kept opposing defenses off-balance.
On the verge of his first state championship game -- in his first season as starter -- Shaw talked with Access North Georgia sports editor Morgan Lee about the Falcons’ season, the playoffs, his improvement and whether he’ll lord this over his brother.
QUESTION: If someone had told you at the start of the season that you were about to quarterback Flowery Branch to its first-ever state title game, what would you have said?
ANSWER: I’d say, ‘You’re crazy.’ You have to believe for it to happen, but to believe that early would just be overwhelming. But you do have to believe, and when you do this is what happens.
Q: How did the game against LaGrange play out?
A: We had the ball first, and their defense brought the house. So we had a quick three and out the first couple of series. Then we had a big play-action pass to score [a 74-yard touchdown pass from Shaw to Rodriquez Frazier], and that really got a spark. And our defense came up big. Then [fullback Daniel] Drummond came along to spark the offense, and we needed him, because we struggled some [Drummond finished with 251 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the night, including 198 yards and three scores in the second half].
Q: How important is it for your offense, and for you personally, to have Drummond stepping up like he has this postseason?
A: For one, it takes so much pressure off me and our receivers. And he does a great job, and he’s come a long way. He had an injury early in the season, but he’s really become the spark in our offense.
Q: What have you seen in film study of Cairo?
A: They’re similar to Baldwin on defense, because they’re really fast. They’re not as big as LaGrange [on defense] and not as aggressive. They don’t send their linebackers every play like LaGrange does, but they’re very fast and well coached. They make quick decisions, and they’re very smart. Offensively, I think they’re the best team we’ve seen.
Q: Your team got to play on turf last week and will be on turf again this week. Will that extra game on a synthetic surface help prepare you?
A: I think it’s an advantage to play on turf right before you go to the [Georgia] Dome, because we got the feel for it. I really think it make you two steps faster. I think our guys will come in knowing what it feels like and are comfortable with it.
A: Stay focused during the week. We’ve got a game plan ready, and we’re going to install it today [Monday]. Now we just need to execute it, and see how it plays out.
Q: Your brother, Jaybo Shaw [now playing at Georgia Tech], accomplished so much playing quarterback for Flowery Branch, but now, in your first season as starting quarterback, you’ve done something he never accomplished. Are you giving him a hard time about that yet?
A: No, not really. He’s always like, ‘Are you coming up close to my records?’ and I’m like, ‘No, but I’m in the state championship aren’t I?’ But he’s really proud, and he comes to all our games and is very supportive. I knew at the beginning of the season, they were going to be some big shoes to fill, with him gone. But I think our offense has done it, and our defense has done it. We’ve come a long way.
Q: How much better of a quarterback are you right now than you were even halfway through the season?
A: I would say I’m 100 percent better than I was. I have the experience now. I’m making better decisions. I’ve had a lot of help on the offensive line and from my receivers and backs, but my decision-making has gotten so much better.
Q: What’s the biggest difference in the way your team is playing now versus during the regular season?
A: I think we’ve learned -- especially me -- I think we’ve learned our roles. We’ve got Drummond back. We didn’t have him really during the regular season. Our defense knows they have to step up when our offense is struggling, and that’s happened a few times this season. Our offense has come a long way, because during the season we weren’t putting up near the numbers we are now. Scoring 28 points on LaGrange is pretty good, and then against No. 2 Baldwin -- they were supposed to be the best defense in the state, and we scored 35 points on them. So our offense has definitely come a long way.
Q: Practice looked pretty intense last week. How hyped will you be this week?
A: I think the big thing – there’s going to be a lot of intensity this week – but the big thing is we need to keep our focus and know what’s at stake. What can’t make the game any bigger than what it is. It’s just another football game. It is a state championship, but we’ve got to stay focused.
-- Note: Flowery Branch's game against Cairo will broadcast on WDUN AM-550, with a pregame show starting at 4:35 p.m.
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