ATLANTA - Mike Muschamp admits that he "loves watching Buford play."
Now "playing against them, that's another story," the Lovett coach said Saturday.
Still, the Lions and their coach are happy for the opportunity. Very happy.
Lovett earned the right to face No. 1 and unbeaten Buford for the Class AA title next Saturday at 6 p.m. in Buford by dispatching Cook 29-16 in the semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
Other than Charlton County, Lovett (12-2) is the only team to keep it remotely close against the Wolves (14-0) this season, losing 21-0 at home for the Region 6-AA title to end the regular season.
"It will be the fourth time we've played, but so far we haven't gotten any better at it," Muschamp said. "We're sure happy about another chance at it, though."
Many around the state may already be penciling in Buford as state champs, but the Lovett players certainly aren't ready to concede the title to the Wolves.
"It would take our best game, but I think we can do it," senior middle linebacker Adam Whitlock said.
"Our defense played well the last time, now we just have to pick up the offense," senior running back Andre Hicks said.
Of course, Buford starting quarterback Twoey Hosch sprained an ankle early in the regular-season meeting and mounting anything offensively against the imposing Buford defense is a very tough task.
Lovett managed just 34 net yards in the first game.
"They're good and they made us look bad," Hicks said.
But Lovett was anything but bad against Cook, taking a commanding lead before the Hornets scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Cook (10-4) finished fourth in Region 1-AA, but had rolled through the playoffs by scoring 97 points in three victories.
Lovett's defense - led by senior inside linebacker Ricco Braxton and Whitlock - shut down senior running back Thad Williams and the Cook ground attack until the game was decided.
Williams, who ripped Greater Atlanta Christian for 249 yards and three touchdowns in the quarterfinals, was held to 14 first-half yards on six carries as Lovett took a 24-0 halftime lead
Quarterback Jonathan Carkhuff, who was 6-for-8 in the first half, hit fellow sophomore Max Williams with a 24-yard touchdown pass and had a 1-yard sneak for Lovett's second TD - capping a 90-yard drive.
A 68-yard interception return for a touchdown by sophomore outside linebacker Campbell Wilson and the first of Jack Hall's two field goals accounted for Lovett's big lead at halftime.
That was certainly different from last year, when Lovett fell behind early and was embarrassed 65-7 by Dublin in the semifinals.
"It definitely felt good to be ahead this time," said Hicks, who finished with 119 yards on 18 carries.
"We knew we were a lot better team this year," Muschamp said.
But good enefensive end Eric Eberhardt said. "He always keeps his poise and stays in control, even against a defense like that."
Tamburo certainly has talent around him. North's offensive line is excellent and underrated. Tyler Jarry is the best dual-threat back in Gwinnett County. Jaison Yoshimura has turned into a go-to receiver.
But without such a dangerous, yet steady, quarterback the Bulldogs wouldn't be where they are today - a win away from a state championship.
North built a 31-0 lead over Walton with Tamburo guiding the spread attack to perfection. When he hit Jarry with his second TD pass of the game, his numbers were brilliant - 18 of 22 passing for 214 yards and nine rushes for 53 yards.
He finished 21 of 29 for 234 yards and also rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries.
Not a bad day's work.
"(Tamburo) gives me so many options of the things to do," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "He creates havoc for defenses because you have to defend the whole field with him. You see so many one-dimensional high school offenses but we're very multi-dimensional, about as multi-dimensional as a high school offense can be. And that's because of him."
If the junior only did one thing well, it would make life much easier for defenders. But in addition to his passing, he runs the ball like an extra running back, no doubt skills he picked up playing that position in the youth leagues.
Some of Tamburo's best plays happen because of those legs. If he gets in trouble, if nobody's open, if the play breaks down, he improvises. Defenders have to be so wary of him taking off, they're often on their heels.
Yet the whole time he's running, his head is up looking for receivers. And often times he finds guys while on the scramble for big plays. It's those types of plays that extend drives and make opposing coaches want to run on the field and tackle him themselves.
"I try to keep my eyes down field and maybe get a run," Tamburo said. "But I really don't think about it as I'm scrambling. It just kind of happens."
At times it looks like Tamburo is racing around out of control, but he nearly always makes the right decision. He's deadly accurate with his passes and rarely throws interceptions.
All in all, it's a pretty dangerous package. Gwinnett coaches have been trying to figure out how to stop Tamburo for two years, and now the state's getting to see what a tough task that is.
Hopefully a major school will give him a chance to do his thing at the college level. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder added another nice game to his highlight reel on Saturday.
"How can he not play at a (big-time college)?" Sphire said. "Look what he did out there tonight."
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His regular column appears on Thursdays.