Calhoun vs. Buford
5 tonight, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV, radio, Internet: GPB (Charter channel 8); 680-AM; www.gpb.org
Directions: Drive South on US Interstate 985 until it merges with I-85 South for approximately 29 miles and take exit 249D toward US 78/Georgia Tech/US 278/North Avenue. merge onto Williams NW and turn right at North Avenue NW. Next, turn left at Northside Drive NW, then turn left at Georgia Dome Drive SW.
Parking: Lots open to the public include: Gold Lot ($10), Red Deck ($10), Orange Lot ($10), Blue Lot ($8), Yellow Lot ($8), Green Lot ($8). Accessible parking includes the Gold Lot, Silver Lot, Orange Lot and Red Deck.
MARTA: The Georiga Dome is accessible from stop W1 on the MARTA rail. One way fares are $1.75. For departure and arrival schedules, call 404-848-5000.
Records: Calhoun (12-2); Buford (14-0)
Coaches: Calhoun, Hal Lamb; Buford, Jess Simpson
Key players: Calhoun, DL Eric McDaniel (6-2, 295 Sr.), QB Michael Johnson (5-11, 185 Jr.), OL David Clemons (6-2, 220 Sr.). Buford, RB Cody Getz (5-7, 170 Sr.), TE/DE Andrew Sachais (6-2, 225 Sr.), OL/DL Dallas Lee (6-4, 295 Sr.).
When Calhoun has the ball: Spread vs. 4-3
The championship game provides a new and daunting task for the top-ranked Wolves, as Calhoun boasts a spread offense that averaged 36 points per game this season and 45 points per game in its four playoff wins.
Leading the pass-happy offense is junior quarterback Michael Johnson, who averages 250 yards in the air a game, and threw for three touchdowns in the Yellow Jackets’ 38-35 win over Brooks County in the semifinals. Johnson has plenty of targets to throw to in what the senior called “the best receiving corps in the state” after last week’s win. Seniors Deshawn Printup and Rhett McGowen lead the aerial attack, while junior Da’Rick Rogers has the ability to catch the deep pass.
Buford hasn’t seen much of the spread offense this year, but with a strong defensive front seven, the Wolves have the ability to get after the quarterback and disrupt the passing game. University of Georgia recruit Dallas Lee (110 tackles) anchors the defensive line, while Landon Anderson (17 tackles in last week’s win) provides solid tackling at linebacker. The secondary of the Wolves will be tested tonight, but the Wolves are senior-laden in the defensive backfield with the trio of Josh Rudnik, Ja’kar Bridges and Jeffrey Gazaway.
When Buford has the ball:
Multiple I vs. 50
A conflicting style of offense will take the field once Buford has the ball, as the Wolves are a run-first team that averages 229 yards per game on the ground. The rushing attack is led by a pair of dynamic runners in senior Cody Getz (1,127 yards, 23 TDs) and junior Storm Johnson (1,153 yards, 19 TDs).
Both have the ability to turn a simple draw play into a long touchdown run, which was evident last week as Johnson had runs of 42 and 45 yards, and Getz took a screen pass for a 40-yard gain. Both runners come in to the state title game averaging more than 8 yards a carry, and have accounted for 45 of the team’s 75 touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets’ defense is built around run-stuffing tackle Eric McDonald, who is verbally committed to Purdue University. Carter Harrison anchors the linebacking corps for a defense that is surrendering 17.25 points per game in the playoffs.
Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves have never lost in the Georgia Dome, and with another state title on the line, it certainly won’t happen tonight.
BUFORD — When the GHSA decided to move the state football finals to the Georgia Dome this year, they probably didn’t realize that they were doing Buford High a favor.
With a perfect 6-0 record in games played at the Georgia Dome since 2000, the home of the Atlanta Falcons has sort of become a home-away-from-home for Class AA’s top-ranked Wolves (14-0). And while they won’t be unable to provide their hometown fans with another state championship win at Tom Riden Stadium, this year’s crop of Wolves are still hoping to keep their dome winning streak alive, and end this season like they did last, with a state title.
“There’s a certain level of confidence that our kids have in that we’ve been there done that,” said Buford coach Jess Simpson. “But also there’s been some excitement in that they get to do it again, and it’s something we’ve been working on all year.
“The fact that our seniors’ last game is in a state championship game is something that they’re gonna remember for the rest of their life.”
Standing in the Wolves’ way of defending their title and winning the program’s fifth title since 2001 is Region 7-AA’s Calhoun Yellow Jackets (12-2). Fresh off a thrilling 38-35 win over Brooks County in last week’s semifinals, the Yellow Jackets boast a spread offense that, according to Simpson, could be a problem.
“They use all 53 yards across the field and they stretch you vertically with the deep game,” said the Wolves coach. “We’re going to have a huge challenge in the Dome.”
Part of that challenge lies in the fact that Buford has not seen many spread offenses this season.
“It’s different, I don’t know if it’s a detriment,” Simpson said of preparing for a spread offense. “We saw it earlier in the year and we spent a lot of time this summer working on it. Monday was sort of a refresher day, and they picked up on it pretty quickly.”
While Simpson is confident in his team’s ability to limit Calhoun’s effectiveness, his coaching counterpart knows that his team has a tall task ahead of them.
“Buford’s Buford,” said Yellow Jackets coach Hal Lamb. “They’re an unbelievable football team and I don’t see any weaknesses.
“They’re talented and well-coached, and anytime you get all that together it’s special.”
Simpson shares a mutual respect for Calhoun, and said that this week the Wolves are preparing “not only for a good football team, but a good program as well.”
Even though the Yellow Jackets have a solid program that has won seven region championships since 2000, Lamb knows his team is at a disadvantage when it comes to playing games in the Dome.
“That’s to their advantage,” said Lamb, whose team last played in the Dome in 2005 when the Jackets won in the semifinals, but lost to Charlton County in the finals. “They’re not awe struck when they get in there, it’s probably a second home to them. It worries me because I don’t know how our kids will react.”
Playing in their second home does give the Wolves an advantage, but it also adds to the already present pressure of being Buford.
“If you play at Buford, there’s always pressure and expectations,” Simpson said. “It’s not like any other week for us.”
Except of course that this week’s game is for a state title, while the 14 previous ones were precursors to the ultimate goal of winning a state title. And for Calhoun, it always knew that Buford would be there in the end.
“We’ve always wanted to play Buford,” Lamb said. “But you want to avoid them until you get to the finals.
“They’re the class of AA and have been for years,” he added. “We just have to go out there and play well and see what happens.”
Lamb is hoping that his team is able to keep the game close and competitive until the fourth quarter.
With his team’s ability to comeback late in games — as evident by the Yellow Jackets’ late win last week, as well as a fourth-quarter rally against region foe Pepperell in the region championship game — provides the players with the knowledge that they can win at crunch time.
“We have some confidence playing close games, but I don’t think we’ve played any body of the caliber of Buford,” Lamb said.
Especially not in an atmosphere like the state finals in the Georgia Dome, where surprisingly the people at Buford wish the came wasn’t being played.
“Personally I enjoy the semifinals being in the Dome because twice the number of kids and communities get that experience,” Simpson said. “But nobody asked me to vote, so we’re just excited to be here.”
Excited, and ready to defend their state title.