D.J. Sanders didn’t sound surprised that the Washington County Golden Hawks are playing for a state championship.
In fact, the senior tight end/linebacker said he thought before the season that the Golden Hawks would have a special season.
“During the summer, when we first got together, I knew it then,” Sanders said. “I just knew it was going to be a great season.”
Sanders was right on the mark. The Golden Hawks will play Buford at 5:30 p.m. Friday for the GHSA Class AAA championship.
Washington County will be trying for its fourth title, and its first since 1997.
“It just hasn’t sunk in totally the magnitude of this game,” Washington County coach Joel Ingram said. “I guess it’s so hard to think about because the season is such a grind, and you’re just focused on the next week, and you just can’t look that far ahead.
“But we had our Monday practice, and I thought then, ‘That’s the last Monday we’re going to practice this year no matter what,’ and when you think about that, it really hits you.”
Both teams are undefeated heading to the Georgia Dome. Washington County’s season opener against Eagle’s Landing Christian was stopped because of lightning, so the Golden Hawks carry a 13-0 record into the title game. The Wolves are 14-0 and have won at least 10 games in every season since 1999.
The Golden Hawks are playing for a state title for the first time since 2004 under previous head coach Rick Tomberlin. When Tomberlin left after the 2005 season, Ingram took over after serving as an assistant coach, and the Golden Hawks lost in the semifinals in his first season as head coach.
Washington County lost in the quarterfinals last year in its best season since 2006.
“People around town are just really so excited, and we’ve had well-wishers from all around the state,” Ingram said. “This has just invigorated the whole town, and these people just love this team so much. We played in front of a packed house last week, and we have played in front of a packed house a lot this year. It’s fun to play for these fans.”
This year’s team will get one more chance to do just that against one of the state’s true powerhouse programs.
Buford is playing for its 10th state title and its ninth since 2001.
The Wolves are playing in a state championship game for the seventh consecutive year.
Washington County has outscored this season’s opponents 649-143, an average of 49.9-11, while Buford has outscored its opponents 672-92, an average of 48-6.6.
“If you try to focus on Buford, you’re going to be in for a long night,” Ingram said.
“They’re just so good and so talented, and with everything they have, if you worry about them, you might as well not show up. You just have to focus on what you do and be as good as you can be and play the best you can.”