To describe the enormous challenge that awaits his team when it travels to Buford for the Class AAA quarterfinals today, Carver football coach Joe Kegler called upon the words of the great philosopher -- and WWF/WCW world heavyweight champion -- Ric Flair.
"To be the man, you've got to beat the man," Kegler said with a smile. "Just like they used to say in wrestling."
The man, undoubtedly, is Buford (12-0), which has won five state championships in the past six seasons, played in all of them and knocked out Carver (11-1) in Columbus in each of the past two postseasons.
And, if you listen to descriptions of this year's Wolves team, it is perhaps the best it's had during its impressive run of success.
In 12 games, Buford has allowed just 72 points (6 per game) while scoring 612 (51 per game). The Wolves have never scored less than the 38 they scored against defending Class AAAAA state champion Gainesville. Gainesville, led by one of the nation's best players in quarterback Deshaun Watson, also scored the most of any team against Buford -- 14 points.
"You have to go through a tough road to win a state championship," Kegler said. "Right now, Buford is the man and we're going up there trying to figure out a
way to win the game. It's a well-coached program. Coach (Jess) Simpson does a good job.
"They play hard, they don't beat themselves. We have go on the road and be mentally prepared and not beat ourselves up there."
Perhaps the only good news that comes with playing the Wolves is that Carver is very familiar with what they bring to the table.
Tonight's game will mark the fifth time the Tigers have faced Buford in the past four seasons.
Carver won the first meeting in 2010, but has lost the past three, including the 2011 Class AA semifinals and the 2012 Class AAA quarterfinals.
"It does seem like it comes down to us and Buford every year," Kegler acknowledged.
Buford will bring to the table an offense unlike any Carver has faced all season. Led by a host of capable runners, the Wolves average 270 yards on the ground per game. Joshua Thomas (669 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Thomas Wilson (632 yards, 15 touchdowns, 10.2 ypc) will be the main threats, but guys like Evyn Cooper (515 yards, 12 ypc) and Xavier Gantt (458 yards, 10.7 ypc) will be tough to stop as well.
To balance the dangerous rushing attack, the Wolves utilize two senior quarterbacks, Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery Van Gorder, who have combined for more than 1,300 passing yards and 17 touchdowns.
The defense, which is one of the best in the state, is led by senior Clemson commit, linebacker Korie Rogers.
Despite his team's notable talent, Simpson isn't taking anything for granted.
"We don't take it for granted because we don't know when the next time will come around," he told the Gainesville Times of his team's championship success.
Carver counters, of course, with a balanced offense of its own.
Sophomore quarterback Jawon Pass has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, and running backs Dequindre Coleman (983 yards) and Noah Hickey (750 yards) form a great thunder-and-lightning combination.
While Pass is untested in this type of situation, he has the attention of his opponents.
"They have a 6-foot-5 quarterback that looks like Cam Newton, athletes all over the field and a big, physical front," Simpson told the Times.
The Tigers defense has also been solid all year and shut out Jefferson County, 19-0, in the second round last Friday.
"Our defense has been good all year," Kegler said. "Sometimes you get some fluke plays that lead to some scores, but, overall, they've done a good job all year."
The Maxwell Ratings, which rate each team based on a number of factors like margin of victory and strength of schedule, project Buford as a 38-point favorite in this game, an unheard of margin between state powers ranked Nos. 1 and 4 in the state.
If Kegler or his players know about that prediction, they aren't letting on.
"I don't read none of that stuff," Kegler said. "If we go up there and play the best ballgame we can play, we'll be fine."
-- Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.