Georgia (Week 16)
I intended to write up something for Week 14 when I was home in Pennsylvania. I saw five games. The District 10 Class A Final from Hermitage’s Hickory High School’s Hornets Stadium between the Sharpsville Blue Devils and the West Middlesex Big Reds.
On Saturday, I was in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field for the four WPIAL championship games. As with last year, the WPIAL finals weren’t really that big of an atmosphere. The 4A game between North Allegheny and Upper St. Clair proved very entertaining as it went to overtime before defending state-champion North Allegheny prevailed.
And last week it was the OHSAA Championships in Canton and Massillon where I witnessed, at the time, the best game of the year I’ve seen between Creston Norwayne and Kenton. That was until this Friday afternoon.
Being the cost-effective person that I am, I took mass transit from my stop-over in southern Atlanta to downtown via bus and train. Atlanta does have a decent transit network and relatively cheap. In a twist, they’ve created a “BreezeCard” that you must use to ride the trains as it is now cashless or tokenless. The problem is you can pay cash for the bus but will not get a transfer to another bus or train. Which means when you show up at the terminal to buy a BreezeCard you’ve been charged twice. Luckily, the ride back was only $2.50.
The Georgia Dome really is shoehorned into its plot of land just west of the downtown district by Phillips Arena and the huge CNN complex. When you walk there from Phillips Arena you’re actually about five stories above ground level to enter.
Tickets were $20 at the door for the two games on Friday. Much higher than I’ve ever paid for a double-header anywhere. The presale price for participating schools was still a steep $15 each. I arrived about ten minutes prior to kickoff of the first game.
Georgia’s GHSA hosts all five title games at the Georgia Dome. On Friday, the 2A and 4A games are played and then the odd-A games are played on Saturday starting at 1pm.
The Georgia Dome is a great venue for high school football. In the same manner of the Metrodome. The stadium’s lower bowl feels confined and adequate and not overbearing. The Atlanta Falcons logos on the field were removed and were replaced with GHSA across the endzones and the associations’ logo was at midfield. The banners surrounding the field were all signifying GHSA Football Championship wordmarks and logos. Free newspaper-style game programs were available at the entrance. Nice previews of both teams for all five games, with rosters, brackets, and a quick list of all previous champions year-by-year.
The Calhoun Yellow Jackets and Buford Wolves were playing eachother for the fourth straight year with Buford winning all three previous games and riding a four-time defending championship streak into the game. This will, however, be their last time playing against eachother as Buford is moving to 3A next year. The GHSA has state-wide playoffs with a hard bracket. First place from one region is paired with #2 from another, and so forth. So two teams from the same area can play eachother deep in the playoffs. In 4A, it was almost Warner Robbins against Warner Robbins Northside, for instance.
Calhoun was the ‘home team’ and wore their New Orleans Saints-styled uniforms with gold helmets and pants with black jerseys and gold numbers.
The Buford Wolves wore a lighter gold helmet and jersey with white pants and green numerals on the uniforms.
This was a very well attended game. Although with general admission, the sidelines were uncomfortably full from goal line to goal line on the Calhoun side and pretty full on the Buford side.
The game was scoreless through the first play of the second quarter when Buford connected on a field goal to make it 3-0. Calhoun answered right back with 9:50 left to tie it. Buford fumbled at the goal line and Calhoun recovered. Calhoun then connected on a 67-yard screen pass with 2:26 left in the half to make it 10-3. The euphoria was short lived, as Buford scored on a 68-yard toss sweep to send it to the half knotted at 10-10.
Calhoun then scored on a 15-yard QB keeper but failed to score a two-point conversion. Calhoun made up for it by recording a safety to make it 18-10 in the third. Calhoun went into the fourth quarter with a lead and tacked on two field goals to make it 24-10 with 3:07 left in the game.
This was when the game went for good to great.
Calhoun fans were cheering loudly and the previously always victorious Buford fans were despondent. However, it was not all lost, as Buford began taking large chunks of real estate on their way to a 24-yard sideline pass to the right corner of the endzone to make it 24-17 with 1:12 left.
But, the onside kick went out of bounds and Calhoun was determined to run the clock. Buford retaining all three time outs and with little imagination or will by Calhoun, were forced to punt with :47 left after only eating 25 seconds off the clock.
With no timeouts, Buford would need a miracle. And that’s when it happened. Calhoun’s center had an errant snap that the punter had trouble catching. With the full rush on, he never got it off. The ball ricocheted right to another Buford player and to the ground where it bounced back to him. It was then a foot race as Buford had a string of blockers as they went in for the touchdown with :39 left. The PAT was good and this game that looked to be locked away for Calhoun now greatly favored Buford.
Now in overtime, Calhoun won the toss and elected to play defense first. Georgia plays their overtimes from the 15-yard line. On the first play, Buford ran up the middle before taking a big hit inside the ten that jarred the ball free and Calhoun recovered to a thunderous cheer by the Jacket faithful.
They did not take any chances and on first down attempted a 32-yard field goal. The refs took a second before walking forward to signal what the fans in the endzone already knew. The kick was good. Calhoun won. For the first time in four years, they had beaten their nemesis and claimed a state title for themselves.
Calhoun 27, Buford 24 (OT)
It was definitely one of the best games I’ve seen this year and of all time. How Calhoun responded from that blocked kick to still win the title is absolutely amazing.
After the game, it was time to walk around the stadium as I awaited the 8pm kickoff for the 4A game between the Lovejoy Wildcats and Tucker Tigers.
The Georgia Dome has some really good food options available in their regular concourse. Cheesesteaks and barbeque. The barbeque chicken and polish sausage were both very good sandwiches for a slightly pricy $7 each. That is better, though, than paying $10 for three spareribs.
The second game started a few minutes late due to the previous overtime. This would present a problem for me later as I did not intend to take a cab the thirteen miles to just south of the airport.
The Lovejoy Wildcats wore two-tone blue uniforms primarily in navy with light Carolina blue helmets and white numbers. The Tucker Tigers wore gold helmets, white jerseys, and maroon pants. They had maroon numerals.
This game was much less attended than the 2A game earlier in the day.
Tucker scored first, 6-0 with 3:24 in the first. Going into the second, they secured a safety after Lovejoy’s punt returner inexplicably caught a fair-catch at the 2-yard line. A 37-yard touchdown made it 15-0 going into halftime. Lovejoy’s defense had recorded eight shutouts and only given up 51 points on the year. They’d only give up 15 or more once earlier in the season.
Tucker was running at will against the Wildcats defense and if not for a penalty would’ve also had an 80-yard run the second half. They did manage one more in the early fourth to make it 22-0 before Lovejoy finally scored in garbage time to remove the goose egg from the score column. With less than a minute to go I left to make sure I got on the MARTA Blue line train back to downtown to make my connection.
I followed the last futile fifty some seconds on my phone as I walked down the corridor that leads directly from the stadium’s southeast gate to the MARTA station.
It was a long day for only two games. But, that’s what will happen with games televised live with commercial breaks.
All in all, this was a fun day out. I would’ve liked to have seen games on Saturday but work commitments prevented that. Still, if these two games wind up being my last of the year, I ended on a high note. The Calhoun-Buford game will go down as one I’ll remember for years. The Tucker-Lovejoy game, not so much.
These were the 63rd and 64th games I’ve seen this season. In only one week since Ohio’s Week 1 did I see fewer than two games. That was a single contest in Mebane, North Carolina in Week 10. Most weeks saw at least three and sometimes four games. Twice, in weeks one and two, I saw 10 games each weekend thanks to a multitude of events going on in Ohio, Kentucky and western Pennsylvania.
I’ll recap what happened with other teams I’ve seen this year next week when I recap the whole season whether I see games next week or not. I’ve got limited opportunities and not sure what to make of them. The best chances are to be in Arlington for any of the UIL Championships or in Hershey for the PIAA Championships. Otherwise, there’s California and Florida to close out the 2011 high school football season.
It’s been fun.