By Nick Nunn staff writer
After facing East Hall, Cedar Grove, and Johnson in the last week and standing victorious against them all, only 32 minutes and the Buford Wolves now stand between the Morgan County High School (MCHS) Hoop Dogs and a state championship title.
The path that Morgan County has carved through the first four rounds of the Georgia High School Association’ (GHSA) AAA division playoff bracket has led them right to the top of the mountain, where they will face one the of the most formidable opponents they have seen all year.
When the Dogs faced Buford at the very beginning of the 2013-2014 season, Morgan County walked away with a 76-65 win and a great start to the year.
The second meeting, however, turned the tables and saw the Dogs behind 69-58 for the loss. But those games don’t matter anymore. For MCHS Head Boys Basketball Coach Charlemagne Gibbons, “round three [is] for all the marbles.”
“Obviously, Buford has a great program,” said Gibbons. “Both of us are experienced with each other, so I’m expecting a 12-round title bout.” The Hoop Dogs’ championship game against Buford this weekend will come after Morgan County’s exhilarating 70-51 semifinal victory over the Johnson Atom Smashers last Saturday at the Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
Against Johnson – the defending AAA state champions – the Dogs buckled down early to overcome a slight 14-16 deficit during the first quarter to lead 29-20 at the half. Morgan County played as seamlessly as they have all season against the Atom Smashers, leaving Johnson to commit unforced errors and turnovers throughout the game and put the Dogs at an advantage.
The Dogs continued to dominate the game in the third quarter, scoring 18 points to Johnson’s eight points, and Morgan County’s fan base, which was out in force down in Milledgeville, contributed ravenous applause to the Dogs’ advance.
By the fourth quarter, the Atom Smashers knew that they were sunk, but played hard throughout the remaining minutes while Morgan County matched their points tit-for-tat and finalized the game with a 70-51 advantage. “We felt great about being able to defeat the defending champions,” said Coach Gibbons.
“I thought we had a chance to beat them before the game. It was just a factor of who was going to respond to the environment. Our home crowd help us tremendously.”
The home crowd was also a factor in Morgan County’s second-round and third-round victories against East Hall and Cedar Grove, respectively, which were held at home. Morgan County’s win over East Hall played out very similarly to the game against Johnson; the Dogs trailed 14-15 after the first quarter against East Hall but quickly pulled together for a 10-point advantage at halftime and a final score of 72-54.
Against Cedar Grove, however, the Dogs’ fight lasted the entire game, with each minute giving the impression that the score could begin to tip either way. Morgan County and Cedar Grove were evenly matched 12-12 after the first quarter and, again, led by 10 at the half, but Cedar Grove never gave the Dogs a chance to simply walk away with the win.
In the third quarter, Morgan County was able to approach a 20-point lead, but Cedar Grove buckled down to cut down their advantage to less than nine points early in the fourth quarter.
The Dogs were able to stabilize their lead in the fourth and hang on to the lead to win 70-61.
Morgan County’s championship game in Buford will take place this Saturday, March 8, at the Macon Coliseum at 4:45 p.m. With so much on the line during this game, Coach Gibbons is planning to go all out against Buford to ensure the Dogs’ success.
“This a championship game so we have got to be willing to do whatever it takes to make history,” assured Coach Gibbons. “We will leave no stone unturned in this game!”