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Trojans, Buford clash tonight

POSTED: September 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

North Hall running back Matt Christmas takes the handoff from quarterback Blayne Gilmer as the Trojans prepare to take on state champion Buford High this Friday at Buford High.

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Tonight’s atmosphere at Tom Riden Stadium is bound to be as exciting as most playoff games.

The defending Region 7-AAA champion, North Hall, and the defending Class AA state champion, Buford, will meet up in Gwinnett County for the first time since playing to a 20-20 tie in 1977.

With the meeting between these two schools that have been so successful year-in and year-out, come some certain guarantees. Both North Hall and Buford fans will pack the respective sides of the stadium to the brim.

The parking lots will be filled to capacity early, with tailgaters and fans looking to share in the spirit of such a compelling early season, out-of-classification matchup.

There will even be an Atlanta television crew on hand to capture the highlights for the evening news.

“We’re expecting a really big crowd for this game,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “North Hall is real fired up for this game, and for a lot of our fans it will be the first time they’ve been able to see our team play this season.”

“It’ll be packed out for this game,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “Our people will definitely come and we know Buford’s fans will be there.”

This two-year series was planned last season and will include a game at The Brickyard in 2009.

Tonight’s game is one both fan bases are eager to see, with two elite programs pitted against one another. With four state titles since 2001 and five state title game appearances since 2000, Buford is a natural measuring stick for success. The Wolves, winners of 38 straight in the regular season, are off to another good start this season with a win last Saturday against a quality Class AAAA opponent from Texas.

The Trojans, with 17 consecutive wins in the regular season, have been the big guys on the block in Hall County in recent years, with three region titles in 7-AAA and three state quarterfinal appearances or better since 2004. North Hall fans are thinking big again this season with a win against Johnson in Week 1 of the regular season.

So who’s got the upper hand in this matchup? Most would assume that the Wolves are the team to beat tonight, but North Hall coach Bob Christmas isn’t about to count his team out.

“This is a great opportunity for our kids,” he said. “Naturally if we were to win, it would be a shot heard around the state.”

Trojan players have heard the talk all week around campus about this game. Friends are asking if they have a chance to win against Buford. North Hall’s players are making it clear that they aren’t afraid to face a team with such a rich tradition as the Wolves.

“We all know that Buford is a really good team,” Trojans senior Graham Duncan said. “But we’re a pretty good team too.”

“We’re coming into this game to win it,” North Hall junior linebacker Thomas Sprague said.

Christmas said that the only other time he’s played against a No. 1-ranked opponent in his career at North Hall was against Gainesville. He’s also coached against a No. 2-ranked Washington County in the 2004 state quarterfinals at North Hall.

North Hall’s eighth-year coach says that preparation for this week’s game against Buford is nothing different than any other game during the season. If anything, it’s easier in his mind.

“They are going to be sound fundamentally, so you can predict how they are going to play you,” Christmas said. “Buford has had so much success, they believe in what they are doing. So you aren’t going to see any changes from week to week.

“That’s a lot like us. What they’ve seen on film of us is what they’ll get (tonight).”

Simpson also likes the matchup that is going to play out on the field. He understands that the Trojans stay true to their wing-T attack in a day and time when most teams are choosing to switch to the spread offense. He says only a couple of the Wolves opponents each season still use the wing-T, where in the past it was closer to seven or eight teams.

“North Hall is one of the powers in (Class) AAA, and our fans are excited to see us play them since they’re only one county away,” Simpson said. “They are a great team with what they do, and are very disciplined, have hard-nosed players and some good playmakers.”

North Hall fans don’t have much time to rest after playing Buford. The Trojans have a region rival on deck, with a game against Gainesville on Sept. 19 at The Brickyard. Buford has a rematch of the 2007 state title game to kickoff the Region 6-AA schedule, when they play host to Lovett on Sept. 12.



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