Buford vs. Calhoun
When: 4:30 today
Where: Georgia Dome
The Blitz: Live scores and updates throughout tonight's game
BUFORD — If you think that practice has to take a more earnest tone the day before playing for a state title game, think again.
Thursday’s football practice at Buford started with 20 minutes left open for players to play two-hand touch, which ended abruptly for a television interview, giving players time to let loose in front of the cameras.
Of course, the care-free approach really isn’t that surprising considering the familiarity with this time of the season for Class AA’s third-ranked Wolves (13-1). Friday’s state title game against No. 1-ranked Calhoun (14-0) is a rematch of last year’s championship game, as well as an opportunity for Buford to claim its third consecutive state title.
“I’m so happy to be a part of this,” senior wide receiver Sherman Page said. “Most people can’t say they’ve won one state title and we have the chance to win three straight.”
“It’s gonna be real special to walk out on that field at the Dome again,” junior defensive end Jerome Davis said. “I know I’m going to have chills when I walk out on the field.”
Buford coach Jess Simpson tried to set the tone for this week’s relaxed practice, knowing there is already built-in pressure playing in a state title game environment. He just wants players to enjoy the process of playing on high school football’s biggest stage.
“You never know how many chances you get to play for a state title,” Simpson said. “Who knows, this might be the final state championship game we play in.”
Every state title game comes with a unique set of circumstances.
Simpson can certainly appreciate the road this year’s Buford program has traveled, especially following a region loss early in the year to Lovett, which set into motion an 11-game winning streak for the Wolves.
Looking at Calhoun, Simpson respects its talent. The Yellow Jackets are led by senior wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, a University of Georgia verbal commit, who needs 75 yards to break the all-time single-season receiving record held by Habersham Central graduate Tavarres King (1,641) in 2007.
“We know No. 21 (Rogers) is going to make plays,” Simpson said. “You’re not going to completely shut him down.”
Last year, Rogers (1,566 yards, 22 TDs) had only four catches for 75 yards in the state title game against Buford, much of that due to the fact he was suffering from an ankle injury.
The Yellow Jackets also have a strong passing threat with senior Nash Nance (2,800 yards, 29 TD’s) to move the ball around the field. Calhoun’s leading rusher is senior Dustin Christian with 1,381 yards in 2009.
Still, most already know that Rogers is the biggest backbreaker that the Yellow Jackets bring to the table.
With that in mind, Simpson doesn’t want to put the weight of shutting down the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Rogers on the shoulders of just one of his players. Just like all season, Rogers will continue to see double and triple coverage, and Buford’s coach is confident in the abilities of cornerbacks Ryan Dillard, C.J. Moore and Jamal English and safety Eric Barr to contain the big playmaker from Calhoun.
“We believe in our defense to get the job done,” Page said. “We believe we can get to Nash and we know he doesn’t like to get hit.
“We know Da’Rick doesn’t like to get hit either.”
In the semifinals, Buford showed another character strength when it was forced to rally for a 38-28 victory at second-ranked Fitzgerald. The Wolves secured the win by forcing a late fumble on Fitzgerald’s quarterback and scored shortly after with a 1-yard run from Jessel Curry.
Now the Wolves have the chance to win their sixth state title in Class AA this decade.