BUFORD - Aesthetically, the offenses at Buford and
Calhoun couldn't be any more different.
The former prefers to pound away with the running game and then once drawing in the opposing defense, hit it with an occasional play-action pass.
The latter runs a more modern spread offense and loves to fill the air with footballs and dare opponents to chase down their speedy skill players.
The common bond between the two approaches is that they both get results, and both offenses will be major keys when the top-ranked Wolves meet their final obstacle to defending their Class AA state championship by taking on the No. 10 Yellow Jackets today at 5 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
"They're a complete team on offense," Buford coach Jess Simpson said of Calhoun (12-2). "You don't look at them and say, 'Boy, they're not very good at this position.' They've got all the parts."
The Yellow Jackets' best parts perhaps lie in their passing game, with junior quarterback Michael Johnson, who has thrown for 2,297 yards and 23 TDs this season. He directs an attack with a formidable supporting cast of receivers like dynamic sophomore DaRick Rogers (43 rec., 783 yards, 9 TDs) and seniors Derek Ramsey (31 rec., 704 yards, 9 TDs) and Rhett McGowan.
"They throw the tunnel (screen) really well," said Buford senior safety Jeffrey Gazaway, a member of the Buford secondary charged with slowing down Calhoun's aerial assault. "We've just got to do a good job of playing the pass routes, have our linemen get a pass rush and stop the run when it does happen."
That's been easier said then done for opposing defenses as Calhoun has averaged 36.9 points per game. The Yellow Jackets have been even tougher to stop during the playoffs, averaging a whopping 45 points in four postseason games.
Of course, Buford (14-0) has faced plenty of strong offensive teams during the postseason.
Each of the Wolves' last two opponents have featured dynamic athletic talents, such as recent N.C. State commitment Rashard Smith of Dublin and Georgia Tech-bound jack-of-all-trades Jemea Thomas of Fitzgerald.
But Simpson says Calhoun will pose different problems because the Yellow Jackets complement their skill players with big, physical offensive line.
"Skill-wise, you can definitely compare (Calhoun with Dublin and Fitzgerald," Simpson said. "They (Calhoun) are probably better at the quarterback and receiver positions. They've got about three or four backs like Fitzgerald, but where they're really good is the offensive line. They are a lot bigger kids than maybe we saw last week and they seem to play very physical."
Of course, the Buford defense - with such catalysts as Georgia commitment Dallas Lee and Trevor Warbington on the line, Landon Anderson and Jessel Curry at linebacker and Gazaway, Josh Rudnik and Ja'Kar Bridges in the secondary - has been up to the task, allowing just 8.9 points per game.
And the Wolves' offense isn't exactly chopped liver, either, averaging 40.4 points per game and cracking the 40-point mark eight times in its 14 games.
The running game - led by 1,000-yard rushers Storm Johnson and Cody Getz - can be relentless, while quarterback Michael May has the ability to keep defenses honest.
So, the way Calhoun coach Hal Lamb sees it, his offense will have to click on all cylinders just to keep up, though a solid, if not spectacular, Yellow Jacket defense has its own share of weapons, like Purdue-bound defensive lineman Eric McDaniel (57 tackles).
"We've got to keep (Buford) off-balance as much as possible, but it's a difficult challenge," Lamb said. "We've been playing well offensively lately, but our only chance for staying close is to not turn the ball over and maybe have them have some turnovers.
"If they don't, it will be awfully tough, but you never know. We'll see what happens."
Hoping for Buford turnovers is also easier said than done as the Wolves have given up the ball just 14 times this season.
Still, the Wolves expect the best out of the Yellow Jackets tonight.
"They're really big, really strong and really fast," Warbington said. "We're going to have our hands full."
As coach of the only common opponent of Buford and Calhoun this season, Westminster's Gerry Romberg has a unique perspective of tonight's Class AA state title clash. Romberg, whose Wildcats lost to the Wolves 29-7 in the regular season and to the Yellow Jackets 38-20 in the second round of the playoffs, breaks down both teams and gives his thoughts as to what each team has to do to win.
"They're very strong and physical up front and they have a solid offensive plan with their running game and are good at playing ball control. But you can't focus only on the running game. Their quarterback doesn't make mistakes, and when we played them, they hadn't gotten their tight end or receivers involved much on film. But then they started throwing it a lot more against us. We did a good job in the first half defensively against the run, but they did a good job coaching-wise of mixing in the play-action. They're solid. They have no real weaknesses."
"They run that Tony Franklin spread option and they do a great job of getting to the line of scrimmage, looking over the defense and adjusting. With Buford, that will be interesting to see because (the Wolves) don't try to change or disguise what they do and they (Calhoun) want to dictate what they do on offense. They've got a very talented quarterback and very exceptional receivers. Their running game is kind of suspect, which plays in to Buford's strength. It will be interesting to see if they can generate a running game at all."
"Up front, they're so athletic and strong and physical. They don't do anything fancy. They're so sound with their scheme, they don't have to. They're really aggressive and they'll come after you. They play hard until the whistle blows. And they're very balanced. Their front seven is very good and their secondary will keep everything in front of them. They'll give you the short stuff, but they're not going to give up the big play, and they're good at forcing you into long-yardage situations. Again, (they have) no real weaknesses."
"They have big defensive linemen and their noseguard is pretty strong. Their two outside linebackers are pretty good and their secondary is very athletic. They run a 3-3-5 and the blitz a little, but they don't bring the house very often. They'll usually sit back and play their base front. So, in that respect, they're similar to Buford."
KEYS TO BEATING BUFORD
"The big question is, can (Calhoun) generate a running game against Buford because they do such a good job of ball control and they usually don't turn the ball over much."
KEYS TO BEATING CALHOUN
"(Buford has) got to control the ball on offense, shorten the game and keep Calhoun's offense off the field. Calhoun has proven they can score on anybody."
PLAYER YOU HAVE TO STOP ON BUFORD
"Like I said, their quarterback (Michael May) doesn't make many mistakes and Storm Johnson is a physical specimen. But I'm so impressed with Cody Getz. Getz, to me, is one of the biggest keys to their running game."
PLAYER YOU HAVE TO STOP ON CALHOUN
"Both their receivers are good, but (DaRick) Rogers is really good. He'll be one of the top recruits in the country (in his senior) year."
"Both teams are very good. Both teams have tremendous tradition and are extremely well coached. But it may be difficult for Calhoun to have enough touches on offense to win. I think it will be a close game, but Buford will wear them down as it gets into the fourth quarter unless Buford just turns the ball over (a lot)."
SideBar: BUFORD VS. CALHOUN
Who: Buford Wolves (6-AA) vs. Calhoun Yellow Jackets (7-AA)
When: Today, 5 p.m.
Where: Georgia Dome
Coaches: Jess Simpson, Buford; Hal Lamb, Calhoun
Records: Buford 14-0; Calhoun 12-2
Last week: Buford beat Fitzgerald 44-21; Calhoun beat Brooks County 38-35
Prediction: Buford 27-14
Buford 41, Calhoun 14*
* Second round of state playoffs