Raiders riding high, ready for Buford

  • Habersham Central’s Pierce Vickery (52) and Jonathan Adams (55) pressure Winder-Barrow quarterback Trevor Summerfield during Friday night’s win over the Bulldoggs. TOM ASKEW/Special
    Habersham Central’s Pierce Vickery (52) and Jonathan Adams (55) pressure Winder-Barrow quarterback Trevor Summerfield during Friday night’s win over the Bulldoggs. TOM ASKEW/Special

   Habersham Central is riding momentum from a big win into Friday night’s game against Buford, a longtime Georgia powerhouse who is in the Raiders’ region for the first time.

   “They are a good football team every year,” Raiders coach Benji Harrison said. “We told the kids that our job is to make the team beat us and not the name on the jersey.”

   The Raiders (3-2, 1-0 Region 8-6A) are coming off a thrilling 27-21 win at Winder-Barrow to begin regional play.

   Quarterback Joshua Pickett scored four touchdowns – including two in the last four minutes of the game – and the Raiders overcame four turnovers while forcing four of their own.

   “If we had played 3 ½ quarters like we played the last part of the fourth, things would have been different,” Harrison said. “We did play hard the entire game, but we got more physical in the last few minutes of the game and made some huge plays in big moments.”

   Harrison noted that both teams turning the ball over four times kept either from gaining a significant advantage from the miscues.

   “What we did was keep fighting and realized it is never over until it is over,” Harrison said. “We have tried to teach the kids that if they play with extreme effort, we can find a way to win games when things are not going our way.”

   Harrison has worked in practice this week to carry that effort and confidence over to the matchup with Buford.

   “We have to lay it all on the line and find a way to keep the game close,” Harrison said. “If we can get it to the fourth quarter and stay within reach, anything can happen.”

   The Raiders will need all the juice they can muster against Buford, which has won its last three gamers in laughers and not allowed an offensive touchdown to any of those vanquished foes.

   In addition to rushing for four touchdowns against Winder, Pickett was able to pass for 179 yards, including six completions to Austin Wood.

   Pickett tossed three interceptions as well, including two in the red zone, and he took the blame for those throws and vowed Friday night after the game to get better going forward.

   “That was on me and we have to get right Monday,” Pickett said after the win.

   Habersham’s other running threat Jackson Clouatre had a tough time finding running room Friday until gaining 33 yards on the game-tying drive. Clouatre exploded out of the gate to lift the Raiders to a 2-0 start, but the last three opponents have keyed their defense to slow him down.

   “Each week is a different game, and the other teams watch film, too,” Harrison said. “They are going to try and take away what we do best. I think we wore them down in the fourth quarter, though, and Jackson is the same guy in the fourth quarter as he is in the first. He had some terrific runs for us late in that game that helped us win.”

   Habersham Central’s defense did not allow any points in the final 21 minutes of the game. Raiders’ leading tackler Garrett Heaton said the defense’s performance in the second half could be a catalyst for future success.

   “It sets the tempo for us that if we have the will to fight, we can compete,” Heaton said. “The way we finished the game boosted our confidence.”

   Even as the underdog, the Raiders will show up Friday and be ready to face the vaunted Wolves.

   “We can’t try to overthink anything,” Wood said. “Just because they are Buford does not mean we can’t beat them. If we play 100% and they play 100%, it will be a good ball game. We know that we have what it takes to be a winning football team, we just have to show out.”

   “The kids are excited to play them,” Harrison said of the matchup with Buford. “It is a great opportunity to measure yourself against the best, and we will be happy to be back home in front of our crowd.”