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A closer look at Lovett
Lions stand in way of another Buford championship appearance
Lovett running back Zach Boden. - photo by For The Times

Standing in Buford’s way of a fourth-straight Class AA title game appearance is a familiar region foe making a historical playoff run.

Lovett (10-3) advanced to its semifinals matchup against the Wolves (12-1) by beating Brooks County 35-18 in the state’s first-ever matchup of two No. 4 seeds.

Now, the Lions must travel to Tom Riden Stadium on Friday to play top-seeded Buford at 7:30 p.m. in a showdown of Region 6-AA teams to decide who advances to the Georgia Dome for a state title. The Wolves are going for their fourth consecutive championship and the Lions their second in school history — they won the Class B title in 1970.

Here’s a closer look at a Lions team all too familiar to Buford.

WOLVES HAVE LIONS’ NUMBER: Buford has won six of its last seven meetings with Lovett and began its current state title run by beating the Lions 50-0 in the 2007 AA championship. The next two seasons saw regular season matchups where Buford outscored Lovett by a combined score of 62-0.

Then last season, Lovett notched its first win in the series since 1971, beating the Wolves 28-21 to hand Buford its only loss of the season.

“For us to come away with that win was huge for out confidence,” Lions coach Mike Muschamp said. “It was so frustrating to play them and have the results we did, and that created a learning curve for our kids ... I wouldn’t say beating them changed the culture of our team, but it helped our attitude toward playing big-time opponents.”

On Sept. 24 of this season, Buford beat the Lions 37-14, compiling 488 rushing yards (including a school-record 319 by Seon Jones) in the process.

RUNNING TO THE SEMIFINALS: The Lions’ three playoff wins over Elbert County, Dade County, and Brooks County are largely due to the run game, which has accounted nearly all of the team’s offensive production.

The Lions’ offensive attack is led by senior Zach Boden, who has rushed for nearly 600 yards in three playoff games. Last week, he rushed for 148 yards and touchdown in the win over Brooks County. He burned Dade County two weeks ago for 260 yards and three scores.

For the season, the three-year starter has carried the ball 154 times for 1,304 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“Zach has had an outstanding career here at Lovett dating back to ninth grade,” said Muschamp of Boden, who stands at 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs 195 pounds. “He’s performed at a high level ever since he stepped on to campus, and now he’s put the team on his back and is leading the way.”

Quarterback Hunter Budd is the only other Lion with more than 100 carries on the season (131 for 592 yards and 14 touchdowns), but Jeremy Brandt, Davis Cowles and Jack Geraghty are also threats to run.

Muschamp credits the maturation of the offensive line — led by lone returning starter Hunter Rich (6-2, 277 Sr.), a center — and its steady improvement throughout the season as a key to the run game’s success.

NO QUARTERBACK, NO PROBLEM: Budd (6-2, 187 Sr.) left the Dade County game for good with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and was unavailable for last week’s quarterfinals game.

The loss would have figured to be devastating — Budd had thrown for 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns on 112-for-197 passing — with no other player completing more than one pass this season.

But Geraghty (6-2, 195 Jr.), a utility player who’s lined up at defensive end, linebacker, punter and place kicker, did a more-than-adequate job of filling in for Budd last week.

Against Brooks County, he rushed for 118 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries.

“He’s well prepared, mentally, to execute this offense and he did a great job,” said Muschamp of Geraghty, who also threw for 42 yards on 4-for-6 passing. “Him playing quarterback is not a big deal.”

Muschamp said Budd has been limited this week in practice, but that x-rays came back OK and he’ll know more about playing status when he meets with team trainers Thursday.

Budd is considered questionable for Friday’s game.

LIONS 'D' CHIPPING IN: In all of Lovett’s wins, plays on defense have led to offense and has often served as the momentum-changer. Against Elbert County in the first round, an interception late in the first half on the play after a called-back Blue Devils touchdown allowed the Lions to score just before half, creating a 14-point swing.

Freshman defensive back Grant Haley’s interception against Dade County set up a Lovett score. Last week, Taylor Wilbey sacked the quarterback for a safety and the Lions scored after the free kick to take a commanding 23-6 first-half lead.

“(Defensive coordinator) George Pribish and his staff are great at putting players in position for a chance to win, and that’s really been the story for the last month,” Muschamp said.

HOPING FOR A DIFFERENT OUTCOME: Muschamp sees similarities and differences in both the Lions and Wolves since the two met on Sept. 24. He said schematically, his team still plays the same, but they’re playing with more confidence.

Also, the Lions are more comfortable with each other.

“The thing with us is we really don’t get together until Aug. 1 because so many guys are playing soccer, lacrosse, baseball and track,” he said. “Some practices there were only 26 kids out there, so the season is a process of coming together as a unified team.”

One difference Muschamp noticed in Buford — aside from pointing out the Wolves’ noticeable improvement — is the offense is more fine-tuned.

“Earlier in the season, they were trying to figure out what they can and can’t do,” he said. “They were throwing the ball around a good bit and spreading it around.

“But when they got to us, they ran the ball down our throat, and that’s Buford football.”

In the first matchup, the Lions were without three starting linebackers. Two — sophomores John Coletti (6-1, 187) and Corey Erdoes (5-10, 194), will be on the field Friday.

Muschamp is hoping the two, along with the rest of the defense, is more effective at slowing the Wolves down this time.

“They had a couple of big runs on us, then everyone on the team tried to make every tackle,” he said. “This time, the players have got to stick to their responsibility and their area on the field instead of going three gaps over to try and make a tackle.”

FOOTBALL IS IN THE FAMILY: Muschamp is the brother of Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who is next in line to replace coach Mack Brown. Their paternal grandfather played at Penn State “in the days before they put face masks on the helmet,” Muschamp said, and their father, Larry, played at North Carolina and coached East Rome High (1964-68).

Mike played at Duke and Will played at Georgia. Another brother, Pat, played at West Point and is now out of football.

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