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Buford, St. Pius X present unique challenges in title game

Photo: Karl Moore Buford's Korie Rogers (43) tries to avoid the tackle of a Cartersville defender during last week's game.

Photo: Karl Moore Buford's Korie Rogers (43) tries to avoid the tackle of a Cartersville defender during last week's game.

A state championship game is always supposed to provide each participant with the biggest challenge it has faced throughout that particular season.

But when No. 3 state-ranked Buford takes on seventh-ranked St. Pius X in the Class AAA title game Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome, the two combatants will also be facing perhaps their most unique challenges.

"If you look at it honestly, every matchup is different," Buford coach Jess Simpson said.

Perhaps, but the Wolves (11-3) will definitely be facing something they have not seen yet this season -- at least, from a defensive standpoint -- in the St. Pius X (12-2) triple option running attack.

While senior Ryan Braswell carries much of the load after running for 1,531 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, the Golden Lions have three other runners -- senior quarterback Jack Spear and junior running backs Branden Mitchell and Nick Ruffin -- averaging at least 6 yards per carry.

Simpson admits defensing such an offense will be a much different task from the pass-happy attacks his team has seen the previous two rounds of the playoffs.

"They run out of a wing-T formation, but it's mainly a triple option," Simpson said. "It's a hard combination, and we have to adjust. What we did the last two weeks against Carver(-Columbus in the quarterfinals) and Cartersville (in the semifinals) are polar opposites."

Meanwhile, St. Pius X coach Paul Standard also sees a challenge in Buford that his team hasn't faced yet this year.

While the Golden Lions have seen plenty of talented opponents throughout the season, Standard doesn't believe they've seen one as deep as Buford.

The Wolves' ability to plug in quality players on both sides of the ball impresses Standard.

It's an offense with six different runners having accumulated 239 or more yards, led by Dontravious Wilson's 1,137 yards and 14 TDs. They also have rotating quarterbacks in Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder and a line led by Georgia commit Josh Cardiello.

It's a defense which has produced 13 different players with sacks -- led by Mikey Bart's 10 -- and nine different players with interceptions -- with Korie Rogers and Thomas Wilson having four each.

"The first thing I thought was that the kids were watching Alabama when we were watching film on them," Standard quipped. "Obviously, they're an outstanding team this year, and an outstanding program. Defensively, I think their strength is that they're well coached and fundamental, and they control the ball on offense.

"That's also our plan every week, and it's worked for us. ... The slower the pace and the faster the clock can run, the better for us."

Both coaches agree pace could be an important factor in today's outcome.

However, Buford would seem to be better equipped to handle a faster pace, while a slower one seems to favor St. Pius X more, Simpson says his Wolves must be able to handle whatever tempo the game moves at.

"We know both teams probably won't have as many possessions as they would in most games," Simpson said. "So, you have to maximize your possessions and defensively, find a way to get off the field."

The other unique difference between the two teams lies with their respective motivation.

For Buford, while this is its first shot at Class AAA since moving up this year, the task is to take home another state championship after having its string of four straight titles at AA broken a year ago.

"It's a great opportunity," Thomas Wilson said. "We've been hungry just to get back to the Dome and play after ... losing at the Dome last year. We're ready, and it should be a fun game."

While St. Pius X also has a long and distinguished tradition of success, including the 1968 Class AA title under Hall of Fame coach George Maloof, its motivation Friday is much different.

The Golden Lions will be making just their third appearance in a state championship game, an experience Standard wants his team to take seriously, but also embrace the fun aspect of.

"All week in practice, I've told them, 'Don't wish for (today) to get here too quickly,'" Standard said. "'Enjoy each day of the week because you'll remember all of it the rest of your lives.' (Today) will get here fast enough. We can't get caught up in all the chaos that comes with being one of the last two teams (in this classification) left because then we'll lose our focus."