BETHLEHEM -- In an important Region 8-AAAA for both teams, Kanler Coker ran for three touchdowns and passed for another as fourth-ranked Flowery Branch defeated Apalachee 42-20 Friday night in Bethlehem.
The Falcons (2-0, 2-0 8-AAAA) entered R. Harold Harrison Stadium averaging 60 points a game in their first two wins. But they found themselves in an unfamiliar position at the end of the first quarter, locked in a scoreless game against the gritty Wildcats.
Apalachee got behind early with mistakes, but never gave up.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a lot tonight," said Apalachee head coach Shane Davis, "but hats off to them. You give a team that talented chances and they'll take advantage. And they did."
The Wildcats responded immediately. After Stanley Williams kickoff return to the Apalachee 49, Clint Ashe connected with Jermaine Smith in the end zone on a 38-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-7 with 5:06 left in half.
The Wildcats appeared to have halted the next Flowery Branch drive, but a defensive holding penalty on third-and-12 kept the Falcons drive alive. Three plays later, Haley powered up the middle 25 yards for his second TD and 21-7 Falcons lead at halftime.
"They are tough to defend," said Davis, "they spread you out and force you to make plays in space, and then they run a Brahma bull up the middle on you."
The Wildcats again battled back when Stanley Williams slithered from the grasp of several Falcons and raced 32 yards to pull the Cats within 21-14 with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter.
That's as close as they would get. Coker scored on runs of 1 and 16 yards to push the lead to 35-14. Ashe, who rushed for 91 yards on seven carries to lead the Wildcats, scrambled out of the pocket and spectacularly weaved his way 70 yards for a TD to keep the Cats hopes alive at 35-21 with 7:07 left in game.
"I feel like we got better this week," said Davis, "if you look at the scoreboard it won't show it, but we did. I'm proud of our effort. Our kids fought hard. I saw what Apalachee football is supposed to look like tonight."