Here's a look at five things we learned from the high school football state semifinals...
1. Jay Gaudlock should be a household name too
While collegiate football fans around the southeast know the name Deshaun Watson and wish the Gainesville quarterback was headed to their school (other than Clemson fans, who will be lucky enough to watch the Georgia High School Association record holder), there should be plenty of fans -- and coaching staffs -- hoping to land Watson's top receiver from this season. Gaudlock is a great athlete with great hands -- just watch this video and fast forward to the 3:20 mark to witness the latest in a long line of outstanding receptions the senior has made this campaign. Gaudlock has snagged 1,276 yards worth of passes this campaign (the correct number, despite a mis-print in our game story from Friday) -- one of the 30 best single season marks in state history -- and helped Gainesville overcome the graduation of two outstanding receivers from last year's state championship team. And he's done all this after switching to the position full time just this year. His lack of big receiving numbers before this season (he did have strong rush stats the the previous two campaigns) helped keep him from becoming a household name, but that's no reason some big-name school(s) should not be taking a long look at the Red Elephants' standout.
2. Tucker's defense is legit
The Tigers are not Buford, but they're not far off. Tucker showed as much in Friday's Class AAAAA semifinal, holding Gainesville's explosive offense to 248 yards and two touchdowns. Most telling were the adjustments Tucker made after Gainesville moved the ball impressively in the first half. After taking a 14-0 lead, the Red Elephants gained very little and saw their early momentum extinguished by an aggressive, blitzing defense that kept Deshaun Watson under pressure and often taking hits. Tucker's secondary also proved up for the task, picking off four passes -- including two huge interceptions by Dominick Sanders that kept Gainesville from a 21-0 lead and one that essentially ended the contest. The Tigers possess speed and size and are obviously well-coached. If Tucker does not go on to win the Class AAAAA crown, count us shocked.
3. Buford knows it can absorb a haymaker -- and counter
We knew they were talented, disciplined and dominant, but even with the lopsided manner in which Buford has played this season, one question remained unanswered by the Wolves: How would they react if they got in a close game? Buford answered that question with a comforting response for Wolves fans on Friday. Falling behind 7-0 and 14-7 to an explosive Callaway team before ripping off 17 unanswered points to win going away, 24-14. And you have to figure that number would have been higher had a torrential downpour not made moving the ball almost impossible in the fourth quarter. Just how dominant was Buford in the second half? Consider that Callaway had 161 yards of offense by halftime but finished with just 187 for the game, including zero yards passing in the second half. We had a hard time coming up with the last time Buford trailed in a game -- the 2012 Gainesville loss was the best we could remember -- and when it's been that long, you have to wonder how a team will react when it finally comes across a big test (though the Wolves did win a couple of close games in last year's playoffs). As we saw Friday, there's no reason to worry.
4. Buford's Class AAA championship opponent will be ready for the challenge
Not that we expected any bad teams to make the state semifinal round, but count us very impressed by what Washington County did to Ringgold last week, hammering the Tigers 37-0 to reach the title game. The Golden Hawks have dominated throughout the playoffs and will be itching to test themselves against the reigning champs. It could be a defensive battle, as Washington County allowed just 95 yards in last week's win (though Ringgold's starting quarterback was hampered by a prior knee injury) and is giving up just 10 points per playoff contest -- Buford, meanwhile, is allowing just over six points per postseason game. And while the Golden Hawks are nowhere near Buford's 8 state championships in 12 years, they have a championship pedigree of their own in the program, winning titles in 1994, '96 and '97. It will be Washington County's first state title game appearance since 2004, and we're looking forward to the match-up.
5. C.J. Leggett is a difference-maker for North Gwinnett
Every team that makes a state championship run needs a player (or group of players) that will take over when the going gets tough. The Bulldogs have that guy in running back C.J. Leggett. It's even better that Leggett is a running back. As explosive and tough as the North Gwinnett's spread passing attack is to stop, there is nothing so demoralizing as watching a back gash your defense over and over. Leggett did just that to the McEachern defense in last week's Class AAAAAA semifinal, piling up 289 yards and two touchdowns to lead North Gwinnett to a 27-21 win. Leggett will face another tough test against Norcross in the state championship game this Saturday, but if the Bulldogs are to walk away with the crown, you can bet he will have to play a key role yet again.
FRIDAY'S SEMIFINAL SCORES FOR AREA TEAMS
Buford 24, Callaway 14
North Gwinnett 27, McEachern 21
Tucker 20, Gainesville 14
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
At the Georgia Dome, Atlanta
-- 5:30 p.m., Buford vs. Washington County
-- 8:30 p.m. North Gwinnett vs. Norcross