This week has been particularly special for Buford High running back Christian Turner.
He’s an important part of the Wolves (10-1) football program that is preparing for its 18th consecutive appearance in the state quarterfinals. He also celebrated his 18th birthday Wednesday as third-ranked Buford began putting the finishing touches on preparation to face No. 2 Stockbridge (12-0) in the third round of the Class 5A playoffs. Kickoff for the premier matchup in the Class 5A quarterfinal round is at 7:30 p.m. today in Stockbridge.
“Oh, I’m very excited for this one,” said Turner, a pledge to play at Michigan in 2018. “This is a fun time of year to be playing football.”
This week, the senior has had the same routine as all four years of his high school career during the week of Thanksgiving with practice early in the day. In fact, this is a point in the playoffs that the Buford program has reached in the state field nearly as long as he’s been alive.
On Thursday, the final practice of the week, Turner said his team gathered around after practice to spend time together in fellowship to mark the holiday and remind each other what they are thankful for in their lives.
Turner said the mood around the practice field this week has been jovial, but really hasn’t deviated any from preparation for any other game. However, facing Stockbridge, which is a fast-rising program in the state, will be a unique challenge.
The Tigers’ offense is paced by senior wide receiver Marquez Ezzard, a four-star prospect according to Rivals.com, who has nearly 1,000 receiving yards and offers from most of the major Division I programs in the southeast. Ezzard is the primary passing target of senior quarterback Gabriel Mckenzie, who has thrown for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Stockbridge is making its sixth consecutive appearance in the state under ninth-year coach Kevin Whitley. From 1964-2009, the Tigers’ program made just one postseason appearance, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
Despite the imposing opponent, Turner said it’s business as usual for the Wolves.
“We just have to be ready to bring that energy, bring that juice,” said Turner, who has rushed for 720 yards and nine scores in 2017. “If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
In 2017, Buford has had a rather easy run to the state quarterfinals, with its only loss to South Pointe (S.C.) early in the season. In Region 8-5A play, the Wolves gave up just two touchdowns and produced four consecutive shutouts against region opponents.
Last week, the Wolves put up another shutout, taking down second-round playoff Maynard Jackson, 48-0.
The playoffs have been a little tighter for the Tigers. In the second round, Stockbridge escaped with a 10-7 win against Ware County. During the regular season, Stockbridge made its name with great defensive play, holing eight of its 10 regular-season opponents to fewer than 10 points.
Led by a three-deep running game of Tennessee commit Anthony Grant (908 yards), Auburn target Derrian Brown (799 yards) and Turner, Buford also has a passing attack to balance it out with freshman Aaron McLaughlin, who has thrown for 1,577 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The winner will face either top-ranked Rome or Starr’s Mill in the state semifinals. Buford lost to Rome in the 2016 Class 5A state championship game.