The two state polls differ slightly when it comes to the pinnacle of the Class AAAAA football rankings.

The Georgia Sports Writers Association didn’t ding Buford for its lone loss and kept the Wolves at No. 1 with Carrollton second. The other independent newspaper poll has it flipped.

There’s no disputing this quarterfinal is a heavyweight clash of championship proportion.

“You can argue who is 1 vs. 2, but this is why you play the game,” Buford head coach Bryant Appling said. “Everybody left playing is good enough to beat you.”

Carrollton is undefeated in a season dedicated to Chase McDaniel, a player who was diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphoma in April and died the day after his team’s first-round win over Arabia Mountain. They buried him the day after their second-round win last week. At every game this season, a player has worn McDaniel’s No. 42 and the Trojans continue to pay tribute to him through the playoffs.

A balanced offense is driving Carrollton’s success. The Trojans are averaging 38 points per game, though it was down significantly in last week’s 21-10 battle with Veterans.

“They’re tough everywhere,” Appling said. “They definitely want to be you by being balanced. They want to catch you off guard and they run multiple personnel out there.”

Buford has allowed just six points to each of its playoff opponents.

Tom Beuglas leads the team with 92 tackles, 56 of those solo. Jackson Powell has 51 tackles, 11 for loss, with 21 quarterback hurries and eight sacks. Aubrey Smith has 60 tackles, eight for loss, four QB hurries and three sacks. Nick Perry has 52 tackles with four QB hurries.

“We’re flying to the ball,” Appling said. “We are paying a little more attention to detail in practice and it’s showing on Friday. The kids know the task at hand.”

The Wolves are on the road again after traveling 275 miles each way to rout Ware County. Last week’s trip was the cost of losing in the regular-season finale to Clarke Central, but Buford got off to a fast start and buried the home team.

“I love the way our community and the coaches and the kids handled the whole situation,” Appling said. “The truth of the matter is Buford hadn’t had to travel like that in the second round in a long time. It could worry you, but our kids didn’t waver.”

Getting back from Waycross in the wee hours Saturday, and with no classes this week for the holiday, Appling gave the players the whole weekend off and let them sleep in Monday. On Tuesday, it was back to work — though just having football to focus on makes things a little less stressful.

“Any time you practice on Thanksgiving, it’s a mark of a good season,” Appling said.

Buford has scored a touchdown on more than half of its total possessions this season. The Wolves have gone three-and-out just 22 times in 12 games.

They average eight yards on first down.

“Playing in front of the sticks sets us up for success,” Appling said. “It’s a tribute to the running backs and our line of scrimmage. Running the ball has been setting up the passing game. It’s all about what they give us.”

Gabe Ervin Jr. leads the team with 1,095 rushing yards, though Elijah Turner is not far off that mark (782 yards) and the touchdowns are evenly split.

Quarterback Jarvis Evans Jr. has thrown for 1,321 yards, which are spread among quite a few receivers. Jake Pope’s 332 yards top the list with Julien Lewis (201) and Justice Johnson (180) providing depth in the secondary.

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