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Defending champ Buford, Calhoun meet in rematch of last year's final

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Buford's Jessel Curry (22) and Nathan Staub tackle Fitzgerald's Trenton Pruitt (4) during last week's Class AA semifinal game in Fitzgerald.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Buford's Jessel Curry (22) and Nathan Staub tackle Fitzgerald's Trenton Pruitt (4) during last week's Class AA semifinal game in Fitzgerald.

BUFORD -- Today's Class AA state championship football is the second chance Calhoun wanted and another chance for Buford to end the Yellow Jackets' dream.

For the second straight year, Buford and Calhoun will take to the Georgia Dome floor seeking a state title.

And Buford is hoping for the same result as it makes its eighth appearance in a title game this decade. The Wolves claimed their fifth championship a year ago beating the Yellow Jackets 45-21.

However, the roles for this year's game may be reversed -- or at least, more even.

Buford, which was a prohibitive favorite by most observers last season, still brings a formidable squad into today's rematch with a 13-1 record and a No. 3 state ranking.

However, it is Calhoun (14-0) that has been at the top of Class AA rankings since Buford had its 32-game winning streak broken in Week 3 this season.

"They've kind of been the darling of Double A ... this year," Wolves coach Jess Simpson said of Calhoun. "I think there's a lot of expectations over there. ... They're hungry to win a state championship."

And the Yellow Jackets would love nothing more than to do so at the expense of Buford and gain a measure of payback for having the Wolves end their title dreams one step short last year.

While the pursuit of the title is a goal in and of itself regardless of the opponent, Calhoun coach Hal Lamb admits dethroning the two-time defending champion Wolves is a little something extra in the back of his players' minds.

Of course, he also knows that task won't be as easy as it sounds.

"It's a little motivation," Lamb said. "We felt like we didn't play really well in the second half last year, and (Buford) played very well. (And) Buford is still Buford. They're where everyone wants to be.

"All we want is an opportunity to play (for the title), and we've done well so far. Hopefully, we'll play well and make the most of our opportunity."

The Jackets have made the most of their opportunity so far, especially offensively.

Led by Vanderbilt-bound quarterback Nash Nance, Georgia-bound receiver Da'Rick Rogers and 1,000-yard rusher Dustin Christian, Calhoun has had a balanced attack in its spread offense that has rolled up 5,553 total yards and an average of 41.4 points per game.

Combine that with a defense that has allowed just 223 yards and 15.9 points per game -- led by linebackers Josh White (68 tackles, 5 sacks) and Hunter Knight (55 tackles, 7 sacks) and safety Kedron Aker (66 tackles) -- and the Jackets have, for the most part, cruised into the title game, with an average winning margin of 25.6 points.

By contrast, little has come easy for Buford this season.

Sure, the Wolves have won several games by comfortable margins, but they've also been forced to battle in several other close games, including two during the postseason -- most notably, their 38-28 win over No. 2 Fitzgerald in last week's semifinals.

"We've shown a lot of character and a lot of fortitude," Simpson said. "I think what's impressive is ... they've shown they're made of the right stuff. They can do it."

But Lamb reiterated his early theme that "Buford is still Buford."

He points out the Wolves still boast three SEC-committed seniors, two of which -- Kolton Houston (Georgia) and Du'Von Millsap (South Carolina) -- anchor a massive offensive line.

They also feature playmakers on both sides of the ball like Auburn-bound linebacker/fullback Jessel Curry, quarterback Alexander Ross, receiver Sherman Page and linebacker Andrew Swope.

"They're just so much bigger than we are," Lamb said. "Defensively up front, and their offensive line -- those are what stand out to me the most. They're so much bigger than anybody we've played. Last year, they kind of wore us down.

"I don't know if we'll be able to move them or block them, but we'll have to find a way to."