Last meeting: McEachern 56, Buford 0 (Sept. 20, 1963)
All-time series: Series tied at 2-2
Prediction: Buford 35, McEachern 25
McEachern wanted to be tested early in the season and is now going up against Buford, a program that has won six state championships in the last seven years in both Class AA and AAA, and is currently ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA.
The Indians, who are now ranked No. 6 in Class AAAAAA after they were No. 1 in the preseason, are still looking for their first title and is in contention to win one this season after making a run to the semifinals a year ago.
But one game into the season, McEachern is dealing with adversity. If allowing a game-winning touchdown with 9 seconds left and losing its season opener to North Gwinnett wasn’t tough enough, the Indians lost Oregon-bound running back Taj Griffin for the season with a torn ACL.
Griffin, who rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns in his only game, is expected to undergo surgery next week, and the Indians will now have to cope without him.
“We’re still going to stick close to the same game plan,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “What we’ve talked about was everyone stepping up their game a little bit and just be a little better at whatever your role is, and we’ll be fine. We’ll see how it plays out a little bit, and our play will be dictated on what opponents will do.”
It is still to be determined which running back or backs will step up and receive the majority of the carries in place of Griffin. McEachern has seven other running backs on the roster, including Sam Jackson, Dorian McNeal, Michael Nwagbara, Saquan Daniels, Nate Lester, Quay Holmes and Jeffrey Young.
Buford, coached by Marietta High School graduate Jess Simpson, thrives on its running game and has plenty of speed in the backfield, as well as linemen to open holes. Joshua Thomas, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, continues to lead the backfield.
The Indians’ success tonight will gauge largely on stopping the run and keeping their own offense on the field.
“Physically, they’re gifted and have full scholarships at about 70 percent of their positions,” Hockman said. “They’re loaded, but it doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable. We have to play sound and not give up big plays and turn the ball over. We have to make the big plays when they are presented to you.”