Buford (11-3) vs. St. Pius (12-2)
Overview: The Buford Wolves are one of the most successful programs in the state. They’ve won eight state championships (1978, 2001-03, 2007-10) and have reached the title game for the sixth consecutive season. St. Pius has won a dozen games in three of its last four seasons. The Golden Lions won the state championship in 1968 under legendary coach George Maloof, after whom their stadium is named.
Buford season: Buford moved up in classification from AA to AAA this year, but hasn’t missed a beat. The Wolves have lost only one game on the field, that a 19-15 decision to Gainesville, which is playing for the Class AAAAA title. Buford had to forfeit two games because an ineligible player competed in a total of four plays at the end of games the Wolves won by a combined 124-0. It caused Buford to enter the playoffs as a No. 2 seed from Region 7. Buford was ranked No. 3 in the final poll.
St. Pius season: The Golden Lions lost twice during the regular season, falling 21-14 at No. 1 Thomson and 20-14 at then No. 10 Woodward Academy. They beat five ranked teams during the regular season, the showcase being a 50-14 win over North Oconee. St. Pius is coached by alum Paul Standard, who won his 100th game this season. St. Pius, which finished first in Region 6, was ranked as high as No. 2 in the state and finished No. 7 in the final poll.
Buford strength: The Wolves are an exceptional defensive team, allowing only 7.2 points per game. Buford has allowed 20 or more points only once all season and have five shutouts. The Wolves have allowed only 17 points over the last three games. They are especially tough against the run, where opponents are gaining only 3.2 yards per attempt. The defense has 32 takeaways – 16 fumbles and 16 interceptions – and have caused 105 plays that have resulted in negative yardage.
St. Pius strength: The Golden Lions run the option and do it better than most. They’ve scored 174 points in four playoff games, including last week’s 31-6 semifinal victory over North Hall. St. Pius has rushed for 4,238 yards, a 6.5-yard average, and 55 touchdowns. Fullback Ryan Braswell has rushed for 1,531 yards and 30 touchdowns and tailback Branden Mitchell has 829 yards and seven TDs.
Buford’s top players: Center Josh Cardiello (6-2, 280) has committed to Georgia. Defensive end/tight end Mikey Bart (6-3, 245) has committed to South Florida. Outside linebacker Korie Rogers (6-2, 200) is a three-star recruit. Bart and Rogers have combined for 17 sacks.
St. Pius’ top players: The Golden Lions don’t have any highly recruited players. Nick Glass, a D-I prospect, unexpectedly left the program two weeks ago. Weakside linebacker Daniel Crochet (6-3, 193, Jr.) has the nose for the ball (73 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, five intereceptions) and is starting to net more attention. Junior Thomas O’Leary is outstanding as a kicker and a punter.
On Buford: ”They are a balanced football team that can beat you in any of the three phases. The first thing that hits you is the physical size of their kids in uniform. Most schools will use one back and feature him but they use several and make use of each ones skill set. If you move the ball on them they will become a pressure scheme defense. This was a rebuilding year for them and bingo they are right back in the championship game.” – North Oconee coach Terry Tuley, whose team lost to Buford 13-0 in the second round.
On St. Pius: ”Very scrappy hard-nosed kids. Size-wise will not match up with most opponents. Offensively they will take what you give them out of the wing T. In our game we gave them the triple option and they rode it to 50-plus points. Adjust quickly on defense so must have several weapons to have at your disposal. Lost a good secondary player before the North Hall game, didn’t seem to matter. Excellent kicking game that is there when they need it.” – North Oconee coach Terry Tuley, whose team lost to St. Pius 50-14 on Sept. 7.
AJC pick: Buford 31, St. Pius 17