After being road warriors throughout most of their run to last year’s Class AAA state championship, the Buford Wolves will have to be mostly ungracious hosts if they are to get back to the Georgia Dome for a shot at another title.
That’s because Buford coach Jess Simpson won another coin flip, allowing the top-ranked Wolves (13-0) to host No. 5 Callaway (12-1) for one of two Class AAA state semifinals this upcoming Friday at Tom Riden Stadium.
“Last year, it seemed like we were on the road the whole time,” said Simpson, whose Wolves played and won three of four games leading up to the finals in the Dome on the road a year ago. “This time, we’re all at home. I guess it evens out.”
Gwinnett County’s other team involved in a coin flip won’t find out its semifinal site until around 9 a.m. today.
Athletics Directors at North Gwinnett and McEachern elected to wait until today’s regularly-scheduled meeting of semifinal teams from all classifications at the Georgia High School Association’s office in Thomaston to perform the flip.
“It’s more for convenience than anything else,” North athletics director Grady York said. “With the teams having to work out tickets, check for seating capacity and other issues, me and (McEachern athletics director) Jimmy Dorsey decided since we had to come in anyway, let’s just do it in front of the GHSA instead of making an extra trip to a neutral location. “We’d have to meet somewhere in the middle, and Perimeter Mall or some gas station came up. And we both kind of said, ‘Well, do we really want to meet that close to a mall one day after Black Friday?’”
eyes to Norcross
It didn’t take long after finishing off quarterfinal opponent Dacula for Colquitt County to turn its attention to this Friday’s semifinal showdown.
“Next week is a big game for us,” Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst said. “It’s a hump game and it’s a big game.”
This is the fifth straight trip for the Packers to the state semifinals in Georgia’s largest classification, a state record. The previous four trips ended in losses, including a loss last year to Norcross.
“We know what we’ve got,” Propst said of a trip to visit the Blue Devils. “They are the team to beat, they are the best team, there is no doubt about it. I’ve said that from Day 1, but I think we are right there with them.”
Leggett leggin’ it
The 40 carries C.J. Leggett got in No. 4 state-ranked North Gwinnett’s 35-31 win over eighth-ranked Hillgrove may have been more than the Bulldogs’ running back gets in two games on average.
But the 5-foot-9, 215-pound senior made his workhorse-like night count, running for 159 yards and four of North’s five touchdowns.
“(North) Coach (Bob) Sphire told me they were going to need me to tote the load,” said Leggett, whose night unofficially gives him around 1,360 yards and 21 TDs on the season. “So, I just took the task and put the game in my hands, and my teammates kind of just rallied behind me.
“Our (offensive) line just stepped it up to another level. We didn’t want to go home, so we knew we had to turn it up to another level to be successful.”
As effective as the Bulldogs passing game has been throughout the year, Leggett’s big night was a scenario Sphire had been envisioning for quite some time, but had not been able to realize throughout the season for one reason or another.
“He got hurt early in the season,” Sphire said of Leggett. “So, we never had the opportunity until the last half of the season to really kind of feed him the way we thought we could. He had turf toe in the second game of the season against Grayson, and that kind of lingered for a while. He really just hit his stride about three weeks ago.”
leads to chess match
When Hillgrove starting quarterback Elijah Ironside left Friday’s game with North with an apparent concussion suffered late in the first half, it naturally forced the Hawks to make a major adjustment in the second half.
In actuality, Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside made two adjustments, first sending in back-up John Devine in his son Elijah’s No. 2 jersey before lining up running back Richardre Bagley in a wildcat formation for the bulk of the remainder of the half.
“We had kids doing things they hadn’t done all year,” the elder Ironside said. “And I thought the kids did a really good job.”
Indeed, Bagley ran for 70 of his team-high 150 yards in the second half — a figure actually skewed downward by a 14-yard loss on an important sack and fumble that set up North’s game-winning TD late in the fourth quarter — and Hillgrove had 163 of its 332 yards in the second half.
The adjustments also forced Sphire and his staff to scramble to come up with countermeasures for a look they hadn’t seen much of on tape.
“They got the hot and with the wildcat package and they made their adjustment,” Sphire said. “As a result of that, it kind of fed over to their defense, I think. We just kind of had to weather that storm and get back on track, and our kids just continued to believe.
“They’ve got (the wildcat) in their package like most spread teams do, so (opponents) are always kind of geared up for it, but they had to reach in the bag for that.”
Blue Devils’ offense slowed down
Quarterback A.J. Bush and the Norcross offense didn’t put up gaudy numbers in Friday’s Class AAAAAA quarterfinal playoff game against Lowndes.
Mostly, because they didn’t have to with an opportunistic defense.
The Blue Devils’ defense forced five turnovers, giving Bush and the offense a short field to work with most of the night in the 28-7 win.
“Stats don’t mean much at this point in the season,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof sad. “The only stat that matters right now is a W.”
Bush had just 140 yards passing, but two touchdown passes in Friday’s win. The senior threw an 11-yard score to Marques Solomon and a 31-yard TD to Messiah Francis.
Running back Josh Boyd had just 65 yards rushing after rushing for 183 yards last week against Brookwood.
“When you get this deep in the playoffs, you face some really good defenses,” Maloof said.
defense rises up
The final score, a 35-32 loss to McEachern, isn’t indicative of how well the Collins Hill defense played Friday night, especially in the second half.
The Eagles nearly pitched a second-half shutout against the potent Indians’ offense, giving up just an early third-quarter touchdown on a short field after a blocked punt. Though highly touted junior Taj Griffin finished with 151 rushing yards, he gained on 30 yards on 10 second-half carries.
McEachern gained just 115 second-half yards, which allowed Collins Hill’s offense to claw back for a 32-28 lead that was erased when Griffin returned a punt 85 yards for a score with a minute left.
But the Collins Hill defense did its part in the comeback, forcing four straight punts on the Indians’ last four possessions.
“The defense played hard,” Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said. “They gave us a great chance there. They got better as the game went on. Coach (Larry) Massey did a great job with the game plan.”
Tomon Fox had two sacks and two tackles for losses, while Jonathan Thomas and Miles Fox had four tackles for losses each to lead the defense.
Grand slam, of sorts
In its past two meetings with Carver, Buford had found itself on the short end of the score at the half, creating a need for the Wolves to get off to a fast start in its matchup with the Tigers on Friday.
Buford accomplished just that with 22 points in the first quarter, getting points from every possible way.
The first score for Buford came on special teams when the snap on a punt for Carver sailed over the kicker’s head and rolled out the end zone, giving Buford a 2-0 lead with a safety.
The next two scores also came from special teams when Matthew Bonadies connected on field goals on 29 and 39 yards to go up 8-0.
A surge late in the period opened the door for Buford to post two touchdowns, putting the Wolves up 22-0 by period’s end.
The safety, field goals and touchdowns all in the same quarter is certainly a rarity, causing head coach Jess Simpson to pause for a few seconds after being asked if he had ever encountered that.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in the same quarter,” Simpson said. “But the fast start was something we talked about and we go production from every facet of our game.”
— Sports Editor Will Hammock, staff writers Brandon Brigman, Ben Beitzel and David Friedlander and senior correspondent Scott Smith contributed to this report