Buford celebrates after defeating Callaway 24-14 during Friday’s Class AAA semifinal playoff game at Buford. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
While region rematches in Georgia High School Association state championship games have happened several times over the years, title games pitting two county foes are much more rare.
With No. 3 state-ranked Norcross and fourth-ranked North Gwinnett set to square off in Saturday’s Class AAAAAA finals at the Georgia Dome, it will mark just the eighth time since the GHSA has begun holding title games in 1947 that it has happened.
It will also be the third time in the last seven all-county finals match-ups that two Gwinnett County teams will battle for a title, with Parkview beating Brookwood in Class AAAAA and Buford taking down Greater Atlanta Christian in AA in 2002.
The last all-county title game occurred in 2008, when Tucker defeated Marist to win that year’s All-DeKalb County Class AAAA championship.
Norcross gets shot to repeat
There’s only been a handful of schools that have repeated as state champions in the highest classification. Defending state champion Norcross has a chance to join them.
“It feels really good to be going back to the Dome,” Norcross senior Myles Autry said. “It’s hard to go back two times in a row and we didn’t have a great start to the season. But I think this setback has helped us.”
Norcross started the year with a 1-2 record, losing to the nation’s No. 1 ranked Booker T. Washington and North Gwinnett. The Blue Devils will get a rematch against North in Saturday’s state championship game.
Camden County was the last non-Gwinnett school to win a state title in the highest classification. The Wildcats won state in 2008 and 2009. Prior to that Lowndes (2004-05) Parkview (2000-02), Valdosta (1989-90, 1968-69, 1965-66, 1960-62), Thomasville (1973-74), Rossville (1954-55) and Lanier (1947-48) are the only times teams have repeated as state champs in the highest classification.
Autry gets brace off
Myles Autry injured his knee in last year’s semifinal game against Colquitt County. After having surgery in the offseason, Autry played the first 13 games of the season with a knee brace.
Autry played Friday’s Class AAAAAA semifinals game against the Packers without his brace for the first time this season. The senior looked like his hold self in the 14-9 win.
“This is my first game without a brace,” Autry said. “I told my trainer I didn’t want to play with it and see what I could do.”
Autry caught a swing pass in the fourth quarter, avoided a host of defenders and raced in for a 19-yard game-winning touchdown. Autry, who has dozens of Division I scholarship offers, finished with three catches for 30 yards.
Kings of the road
Three teams playing in the Class AAAAAA state semifinals had gotten there by winning their previous three playoff games away from home.
Only one road warrior remains alive after North Gwinnett’s 27-21 win over McEachern on Friday at Walter H. Cantrell Stadium.
While winning four straight road playoff as the Bulldogs have is an accomplishment in itself, it continues their trend of being a tough team away from Tom Robinson Stadium in Bob Sphire’s tenure at North.
Since Sphire took over as head coach in 2006, the Bulldogs are 8-4 in postseason road games, including 5-1 in the last six.
Improvised play proves big for Bulldogs
North running back C.J. Leggett was quick to give his offensive line assists for many of his big runs in his 287 yard, two-touchdown performance in Friday’s win.
However, he also owes another to his quarterback, Hayden Sphire, one on perhaps his biggest run of the night — a 53-yard TD run with 3:29 left in the third quarter that put the Bulldogs back in front at 21-14 shortly after McEachern threatened to seize momentum.
“Hayden got into a run check … in the third quarter then C.J. took that one down the (left) sideline. That was a big play,” Bob Sphire said. “I forgot what we’d called, but it wasn’t what Hayden had checked it to.”
Richt, college coaches at Buford
College prospects abound at Buford and the same is true for Callaway, the Wolves’ opponent in Friday night’s semifinals.
With so much talent on the field, several college coaches turned out for the matchup, including Georgia head coach Mark Richt. Richt was joined by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Auburn and Clemson, among other schools, also sent assistant coaches to the matchup for the Buford recruits, as well as Callaway athlete Terry Godwin, a five-star junior prospect.
Buford delivers in big third quarter
After trailing 14-7 at halftime, Buford turned it up a notch in the third quarter of Friday night’s 24-14 win over Callaway.
The Wolves’ defense forced a quick three-and-out and a turnover on the next Callaway drive, setting up a pair of Joshua Thomas touchdown runs. Thomas finished with 222 rushing yards and three TDs on 20 carries.
“We weren’t concerned at all (at halftime),” Thomas said. “Coach (Jess) Simpson always tells us to win the first five minutes of the second half. We won the first five minutes and we kept pounding them.”
Wolves inch closer to state scoring record
Buford’s 24-point outing pushed its season scoring total to 672 points, which is just 10 points away from the state record for points in a season.
Dublin set the state mark at 682 points during the 2006 season, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
Buford has the No. 2 season points mark in school history with 681, its total from 2007.
— Sports Editor Will Hammock and staff writers Brandon Brigman and David Friedlander contributed to this report