Teams meet in state playoffs for second straight year
By DAVID MITCHELL
Carver coach Dell McGee talks on occasion about last season's state semifinal game, a 28-13 loss to Buford High.
Words like "slugfest" and "physical" are tossed around regularly.
And when the two meet for a showdown in the GHSA Class AAA state quarterfinals tonight at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, their fourth meeting in three seasons, neither McGee nor Buford coach Jess Simpson expects it to be any different.
"It's a challenge," McGee said of playing Buford. "What they do, they do well. It's going to take our best effort."
"When you play Carver, and I hope people say when you play Buford, you're in for a slugfest," Simpson said. "It's jawbone to jawbone. There'll be a bunch of swapping paint."
The two teams have traveled similar paths to the quarterfinals this season. Both lost an early-season contest to a higher-classification school before slowly improving week to week. Now, entering Friday's game, both teams are on a roll.
Carver (11-1) lost early to Class AAAAAA Colquitt County on Sept. 14, but has run off nine consecutive wins since, allowing no more than 21 points to a single opponent. The Wolves (9-3) haven't lost a game on the field since Sept. 7 (19-15 to Class AAAAA Gainesville), though they forfeited two of their wins.
Both teams rely on strong run
ning games and physical defenses, though both coaches have said they are concentrating on balancing the offense with an efficient passing game.
Buford has been forced to throw the ball more in recent weeks due to an injury to starting tailback Dontravious Wilson, who finally got a few carries in last Friday's win, but Simpson, like McGee, said the increased focus through the air is by design.
Along with the similarities, it's the familiarity between the two teams that makes this such an evenly-matched game.
"We're very familiar with each other," Simpson said. "We know what we're trying to accomplish here. We know who they are. And there's a rare respect amongst our kids, too, I think."
McGee echoed the respect.
"They have a great tradition," he said. "It's definitely a measuring stick for us."
Ultimately, the similarity and familiarity between the teams is likely to bring about yet another slugfest.
McGee, speaking about the Buford defense, said he doesn't see a weakness. The defensive line is strong, the linebackers are fast and the secondary is a capable group that disguises coverage well. Never mind that the Wolves lost nearly their entire defense from last year's team. McGee knows the tradition they have.
"They're used to winning," he said. "Success breeds more success. It's going to take our best effort."
That means protecting the ball, McGee said.
"You can't give that team extra chances," he added.
And, defensively, he knows Buford will try to run the ball well to set up the play-action pass.
Despite Wilson's injury for Buford, McGee said the Tigers have prepared like he's going to play.
Despite the history between the two teams, neither coach seemed concerned about what had happened in the past.
McGee stated flatly that they are concerned about this game because it's the next one on the schedule.
"It's just our next opponent," he said. "We've got to win this to go on to the next round.
"Last year's team is last year's team. We're focused on this week."
And Simpson said this game was important, not because of past meetings, but because this meeting was sure to be another close one.
"That's what our kids get excited for," he said. "It's big-time game against big-time people. It's going to be fun."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571