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Football Game of the Week: No. 2 Buford bracing for third-ranked Carrollton in quarterfinals
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Buford running back Anthony Grant (3) is tripped up by Jones County’s Corlen Williams (21) during the second-round playoff game Nov. 18 at Tom Riden Stadium. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Tonight’s games
State quarterfinals
Class AAAAAA

Buford vs. Carrollton

Class AAAA

Jefferson at Cairo

All tickets $12, per GHSA guidelines

It’s been months since No. 2 Buford has been challenged. However, No. 3 Carrollton (11-1) has its full attention.

The Wolves (11-1) approach tonight’s Class AAAAA quarterfinal at Tom Riden Stadium having barely broken a sweat to get to the third round of the playoffs. Buford is outscoring opponents 101-33 and more than 800 yards of offense in the first two playoff games.

Tonight, Buford expects to grind it out for four quarters.

“I mean, they look like a college football team,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said about Carrollton. “They’re just very disciplined, well coached. ...So very physical football team. “You know, this time of year, it’s what you get — really good team, not a lot of weaknesses.”

With a win, it would mark the Wolves’ 15th-consecutive quarterfinal appearance.

But now enters No. 3 Carrollton, a squad striving to make it back to the Georgia Dome for the first time since 2013.

It is a program with an undying tradition, and talent across the board according to Simpson. The Trojans (11-1) have won seven straight since their 27-point loss to No. 4 Rome on Sept. 30, a streak that includes wins over No. 6 Kell and No. 10 Thomas County Central. The Spartans have averaged 38 points while only giving up 15 per game this season.

Even with the distraction of the Thanksgiving holiday break, Simpson is encouraged by the fact his guys have countered it with a great week of preparation. He anticipates this first-time meeting to showcase one of the best atmosphere’s in a long time this Friday night.

Indiana commit LaDamion Hunt, a defensive back, leads the Trojans secondary with three interceptions and one fumble recovery.

Sophomore outside linebacker Reid Deadman has seven of the 23 sacks for the Carrollton defense.

On offense, Trojans dual-threat passer Mark Wright has completed 60 percent of his throws for 1,810 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

But the real test lies with a hefty Trojans offensive and defensive front — three towering at the 6-foot-5 range. The 2,477 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns is a reflection of an O-line anchored by Missouri commit Case Cook (6-foot-5, 290).

“This is probably the best line of scrimmage we’ve seen, maybe since we played Roswell in Week 1. The smallest guy is like, 6-foot-2, 290 (pounds),” Simpson said laughing.

The backfield is fronted by running back tandem Mecose Todd (794 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Jaylan Thomas (741 yards, 8 TDs).

“Their run game is definitely, I believe, what they’re gonna go toward, try to get on the ground and get moving earlier in the game,” said Buford senior linebacker Jake Simpson who has 42 tackles, a sack and an interception for the Wolves this season. “But what we do at Buford, is stop the run, and what they do right now is run the ball.”

Through 12 games, the Wolves have kept opponents to 75 yards a game and just 3 yards per carry.

“It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, and it’ll be a real physical game, Making sure we get our fits right, making sure our safeties come in when they need to and make plays. It’ll be interesting how that pulls out. I think we’re gonna be able to come out and get it done,” added Jake Simpson.

It’s going to be a true test of grit at the line of scrimmage, and no one can attest to that any better than offensive tackle Dean Powell.

He believes it’s going to come down to who wants it more in the fourth quarter, and especially in the trenches.

Although outmatched in size, this senior class makes up for it with a unwavering confidence built from playing the Buford way, which includes running an offense known for racking up the yards on the ground. The Wolves have 3,332 rushing yards to date, Anthony Grant (165 carries, 1,345 yards, 22 TDs), Christian Turner and TD Roof leading the charge.

“We’re very confident, not just in our abilities, but our abilities to play hard,” said Powell. “A lot of our guys are fundamentally sound, and we play harder than most teams in the state. So I think that will get it done for us.”

The winner tonight faces the Kell/Woodland-Stockbridge winner in the state semifinals.

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