The last time Buford came close to losing a game – one not decided by an administrator – was on Sept. 7. That’s the night Gainesville rolled into Tom Riden Stadium and rode the hot hand of quarterback Deshaun Watson to a 19-15 upset win.
Buford actually handled Watson for most of the night, but failed to close the deal in the fourth quarter. Gainesville won the game, but Buford suffered many self-inflicted wounds that night. Since then it’s been lights out. Eight straight on-the-field wins, four of them by shutouts, and a head of steam going into the playoffs.
But the Wolves didn’t get their traditional cupcake first-round opponent. They’re up against a team with an outstanding quarterback, the best they’ve seen since that fateful night against Gainesville. Question is: Does Cedar Grove have enough juice to pull off a huge upset?
Saints fans feel good about their chances. No wonder. Quarterback Johnathan McCreary, a Vanderbilt commitment, has completed 74.4 percent of his passes (151 of 203), with only eight interceptions and 23 touchdowns. He’s only 305 yards shy of breaking the state record for career passing yards. He’s the best passer in DeKalb County and took the Saints to a win over Woodward Academy and nearly brought them back against No. 7 St. Pius. He’s also run for 225 yards and five touchdowns.
Cedar Grove has another weapon in junior running back Deion Sellers, who averages 9.6 yards per carry and has seven touchdowns. No wonder the Saints lead DeKalb with 408 yards of total offense per game.
But how will The Grovers fare against a Buford team that allows only 6.1 points per game? And speaking of defense, can Cedar Grove can stop Buford’s attack. The Saints have been average on defense (246.8 yards per game) and have yet to see an offense with as many weapons as Buford has to offer.
Gordon Central at Morgan County: Morgan County has grown accustomed to making the playoffs under coach Bill Malone; this is the fourth trip the postseason in six tries with Malone at the helm. But the Bulldogs have yet to make it past the first round. Likewise, Chad Fisher has Gordon Central in the playoffs for the second straight year. Morgan must find a way to slow Gordon Central quarterback M.J. Reynolds, who accounted for 375 yards combined passing and running two weeks ago against Adairsville. Prediction: Morgan County
Ringgold at North Oconee: Ringgold had a four-game winning streak broken in the season-finale by Cartersville. The Tigers were tied at halftime of that game, but allowed four scores in the third quarter and never recovered. Ringgold is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. To have a chance, the Tigers must find a way to slow down North Oconee’s versatile Nick Colvin, who can play quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back and kick returner. Colvin threw for two touchdowns and ran for another last week against Hart County. Colvin has thrown for 890 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 626 yards and seven touchdowns. Prediction: North Oconee
White County at Blessed Trinity: It’s not often you get a rematch in the first round of the state playoffs, but this is the exception. The two teams met in Cleveland on Sept. 21, with Blessed Trinity emerging with a 21-19 win. White County has run up some impressive numbers the last three weeks, scoring no fewer than 41 points. The problem is going to be the Blessed Trinity defense, which will be the best White has seen since its midseason games against Buford and North Hall. The Panthers totaled only 21 points in those two contests. Blessed Trinity allows only 16.5 points per game. BT’s problem is on offense; the Titans don’t score a whole lot of points against the upper echelon teams. Prediction: Blessed Trinity
Woodward Academy at North Hall: The question here is Woodward Academy’s offense and whether it will actually show up for the game. The key will be North Hall’s ability to slow Woodward quarterback Terry Googer, who almost single-handedly beat St. Pius three weeks ago. North Hall’s offense has been tough to stop; they even scored 16 points against mighty Buford a week ago. The Trojans, behind a powerful running game, have scored 42 or more in seven of their games. Prediction: North Hall
Other first-round predictions:
Pierce County over Central Carroll; Appling County over Rockmart; Chapel Hill over Johnson Savannah; Callaway over Tattnall County; Carver over Dodge County; Peach County over Jefferson County; Washington County over Pike County; Thomson over Jackson; Cartersville over Jackson County; Adairsville over Hart County; St. Pius over Dawson County.