Buford’s Thomas Wilson (21) tries to break away from a Callaway defender during the game last week. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
For the first time all season, Buford trailed at halftime of last week’s semifinal game.
It was quite a different feeling for the Wolves, who were usually up a few touchdowns at halftime in previous games.
“I think it was great. We found a way to win. We have that experience to draw from,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. “We created so much momentum in the third quarter, kids feed off that stuff and it was fun. We have that experience and know we could very well be behind against a Washington County team.”
Buford (14-0) could be in another close game tonight against Washington County (13-0) in the Class AAA state championship at the Georgia Dome.
Washington County is one of the state’s most prolific offenses, averaging 50 points a game.
“We haven’t played anyone like them on offense. It’s not even close,” Simpson said.
Washington County, which is located in Middle Georgia between Macon and Augusta, played in a five-team region, so it wasn’t too hard to make the playoffs.
Three of the five non-region games were against teams that reached the playoffs, including Class AA finalist Lovett. The War Eagles beat Lovett 36-33 in overtime.
“They scored 35 points against a Lovett team that’s in the state championship,” Simpson said. “They turned the ball over five times and two or three of the five turnovers were in their own red zone. So if they don’t turn the ball over five times, they probably score over 50 on a state championship contender in the AA game.”
Washington County has three 1,000-yard rushers that have combined for 4,648 yards and 70 touchdowns this season.
Running back Melvin Harris leads the team with 1,771 yards and 33 touchdowns, while Danyale Wicker has 1,569 yards an 19 TDs.
Quarterback A.J. Gray has rushed for 1,308 yards and 18 TDs and has thrown for 1,682 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“They wear different jerseys, but they run the same,” Simpson said.
Washington County has won by an average of 37.5 points in the playoffs, including a 37-0 win over Ringgold in last week’s semifinal game.
“That’s not going to happen this week,” Washington County head coach Joel Ingram said. “We’re not dumb as coaches to think that will happen. We’re playing one of the best defenses in the state, if not the Southeast. We’ve had some misleading scores.”
Buford’s defense is allowing 6.6 points a game and 133 yards of total offense. No team has scored more than 14 points on the Wolves all season.
“I don’t think they’ve played a team like us,” Buford defensive end Donte Gordon said.
Buford has its own high-powered offense. The Wolves are on the verge of breaking the state scoring record and need just 11 points.
Running backs Joshua Thomas (946 yards, 14 TDs) and Thomas Wilson (812 yards, 16 TDs) lead the offense.
The quarterback tandem of Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery Van Gorder have thrown for 1,520 yards with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions.
“They like to ground and pound,” Ingram said. “They are big and physical from the tight end, offensive line, defensive line to kicker. There is not a weak part on the football team.”
Washington County is making its first finals appearance since 2004. The Golden Hawks have won three state tiles in 1994, 1996 and 1997.
Buford is in the state finals for the seventh straight season and has won eight state championships since 2001.
“They are who they are. They are every bit of a great program from the coaches to the athletes,” Ingram said. “It’s a great challenge to be able to compete against guys like that. I’ve always been fond of what they do as a program.
“We are happy to be here and the chance to compete for a championship. Our kids respect the Buford program.”