BUFORD - When Charlton County quarterback Dexter Haynes broke loose for a 46-yard run it was Jaytee Swanson who saved a touchdown.
Swanson tracked down the speedy QB from his weakside linebacker position in the first quarter of the Class AA quarterfinals not quite two weeks ago.
It wasn't a spectacular play, but one that might have made the difference in the Wolves' 21-14 win over their playoff nemesis. It was the type of play that personifies Swanson and the Buford defense.
"He's just a player," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "He understands our defense and what we're trying to do. He's a steady guy and makes plays and we know he's going to be there everyday."
Swanson has good numbers, although he's often overshadowed by his high-profile teammates. He has 101 tackles for the season and seven quarterback pressures. But he is one of several important pieces to the Wolves' D. The unit has six shutouts this season and is holding opponents to less than five points a game.
"I think it really just comes down to we have a bunch of guys that are just good football players," Swanson said. "Of course you've got Omar (Hunter, a Notre Dame commitment) and T.J. (Pridemore, a Georgia Tech commitment) that are all-stars, but kind of after that you don't see everyone. Everyone is just so committed to the program and is just about Buford football."
Buford (14-0) is back in the state championship game for the first time since 2004 and will host Lovett on Saturday at 6 p.m.
But life as a football player is more than just winning records and region titles. At Buford, state championships are the yardstick for success. This year's senior class is the only one not to win a state title since 2000, which is why there's some pressure on Swanson and the rest of the seniors.
"I wouldn't say it's scary, but it is kind of weird knowing that if we leave without a state championship we'd be the first class in a long time to do that," Swanson said. "There's a lot of weight there. If you don't get a state championship it's almost like you failed. Not that the season didn't mean anything, but hopefully I won't ever have to experience that."
Swanson is reminded of the Wolves' tradition every day when he walks through the team's field house. The walls are lined with state championship team photos and the trophy case prominently features its state title trophies.
Even when Swanson goes home he's reminded of his older brother Mark's two state championship rings.
"We're just surrounded by everything we're working for on Saturday," Swanson said. "Going for a state championship is everything. Me and all the seniors, this is something that we've always worked for."
The unique spelling of Swanson's first name comes from his grandfather and great grandfather on his dad's side. Both men were named Jay Taylor, but instead of being called J.T., his parents went with Jaytee.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Swanson has been a three-year starter for the Wolves. He's drawing interest from several Division I schools (and holds an offer from Air Force) and has been an important part of Buford's success this season.
"He's one of those kids that's the heart and soul of our program," Buford defensive coordinator Dicky May said. "Not only on defense, but in the whole program."
Swanson finished with six tackles, one for loss, a quarterback hurry and two pass breakups in the win over Charlton. He followed that game up with an eight-tackle performance against Dublin in semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
"I think the last few weeks have been his best games of the year," Simpson said. "That's what's fun when you see your seniors play their best ball at the end of year. That's really exciting for us to see him really coming on at the end of the year."
On Saturday, Swanson will get one last chance to shine against a Lovett (12-2) team Buford defeated 21-0 in the final game of the regular season.
"Everyone think's that we beat them once so we don't have to work hard, but this has been the toughest mental week we've gone through this year," Swanson said.
"The coaches are really keeping us at a good level. This is our goal. This is pretty much we've worked four years for. This is D day, it's our time to shine."
SideBar: THE SWANSON FILE
Who: Jaytee Swanson
Favorite movie: "Braveheart"
Favorite food: Steak and potatoes
Favorite athlete: Jeff Francoeur
Favorite musical group: Charlie Daniels Band
' Has 101 tackles and seven quarterback pressures
' Three-year starter in football
' Maintains 3.5 GPA
' Bench presses 285 pounds and squats 410
' Has scholarship offers from Air Force and Miami (Ohio)