By Fletcher Proctor
Buford and St. Pius X meet Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome for the GHSA Class AAA title.
The Buford Wolves fell at home for the first time since 2006 earlier this season as AAAAA finalist Gainesville tripped up the Wolves 19-15 on Sept. 7. The Wolves’ defense forced five turnovers but couldn’t hold a late lead. Since that loss, the offense has exploded for at least 40 points six times not including a pair of 60-point performances that were later forfeited for the use of an ineligible player.
Jess Simpson’s offense can thank a pair of standouts on the offensive line in Josh Cardiello and Nick Polino, who set the tone for the power running game. Zavior Hoxie, Dontravious Wilson and Joshua Thomas are three of the multiple backs that have received touches this year and Tre Neal, Jaylon Mize, Mikey Bart and Thomas Wilson are dangerous from the perimeter. Last year, Sam Clay was under center and a threat to pass the ball in any situation, but this year the offense has rotated a pair of quarterbacks with great success. Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder have each looked smooth under center, and the pair could be the driving force for yet another state title.
The 4-3 defensive look for Buford features several of those same faces with Bart and Cardiello joining Brandon Brinson and Donte Gordon on the defensive front. Bryson Jordan and Dontravious Wilson join Deion King and Korie Rogers at linebacker. The team picked off three Cartersville passes last week after recovering a pair of fumbles the week prior against Carver-Columbus.
The Wolves traveled the state’s most difficult road to the finals, beating an explosive Cedar Grove offense 41-27, a tough North Oconee defense 13-0, an athletic Carver-Columbus 31-7 and an undefeated Cartersville 21-10, with the last three coming on the road.
ST. PIUS X
The Golden Lions of St. Pius X reached the program’s third finals ever with a standout defensive effort against North Hall in a 31-6 semifinal victory. This season, while the offense has earned plenty of praise for averaging 37.5 points per game, the defense has been simply outstanding by limiting opponents to a total of 193 points, 63 coming in two playoff games. The St. Pius X defensive effort is spearheaded by defensive tackle Quincy Nieporte, linebacker Daniel Crochet and cornerback Michael Sikorski. The three defensive stalwarts give head coach Paul Standard an all-region member at each level of the defense. Tackle Kyle Johnson helped stuff a crucial fourth down play last week against North Hall and Matt Pearson came away with an interception last week in the win. The defense managed to hold an offense that averaged 340 yards on the ground to just 192 rushing yards.
Offensively, quarterback Jack Spear has been aided by Nick Ruffin, Branden Mitchell and Ryan Braswell. Mitchell rushed for a pair of scores and 164 yards against Washington County in the quarterfinals while Braswell tallied 131 yards and two scores against North Hall. Spear is the straw that stirs the drink as he can be effective on the ground and through the air. Spear was named the Region 6-AAA all-region quarterback, and Braswell joined him on the list. Linemen David Marsau and Phineas Andrews also were recognized for their tireless efforts opening up holes for a running game that averages more than 300 yards per contest.
The Golden Lions raised plenty of eyebrows by opening up the postseason with a 72-28 victory over Dawson County. St. Pius X followed that up with a 31-15 win over Hart County, a 40-35 victory over Washington County and the semifinal win over North Hall.