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Trojans hope to shock Buford in Region 7 title game

North Hall will fall to No. 3 seed with loss

POSTED: November 8, 2013 10:43 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

North Hall head coach Bob Christmas keeps an eye on his running backs as they prepare for Friday's game with Buford during practice Wednesday afternoon.

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Buford controls its own destiny and can clinch the Region 7-AAA championship tonight with a win over North Hall at The Brickyard.

If the first nine games of the season are any indication, the Wolves will have a lot to celebrate when the final buzzer sounds.

“To be in this position, the region championship is great,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “But I always tell people, the possibility of having home field advantage a couple of weeks is really the main thing. Playing some games at home is the really big thing this time of year.”

Top-ranked and defending state champion Buford (9-0, 6-0 Region 7-AAA) is putting together one of the best seasons in school history. Offensively, the Wolves are averaging 52.4 points per game, setting them up to break the state’s single-season scoring record of 682, set by Dublin in 2006.

Defensively, the Wolves have allowed just 51 total points this season.

“They are strong in every position and they have depth that goes to at least three (deep) in each position,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “There is not a lot of fall off. Not only is their first group extremely good, their second group is very good and their third group is very good.”

Christmas’ Trojans can shake up Buford’s plans of winning a region title and securing their second undefeated regular season since 2011 tonight in a highly anticipated matchup at The Brickyard in Gainesville.

The sixth-ranked Trojans (8-1, 5-1) can create a three-way tie atop the region standings with an upset win over the Wolves — assuming White County beats winless Banks County.

According to region tiebreaker rules, though, North Hall would need to beat Buford by 12-or-more points in order to secure the region crown. Otherwise, the Trojans will serve as the region’s No. 3 seed in the playoffs after losing the head-to-head matchup with White County earlier this season.

Buford can secure the region championship with a win tonight or a loss by less than 12 points. White County cannot win the region championship in any scenario.

The focus for Buford, though, will be on itself and taking care of business like it has all season.

“These kids have played great,” Simpson said, of his team. “I think a team’s legacy and how they’re remembered, in my opinion, is how they play in November and December. I don’t think you build a legacy in September and October, but you can position yourself. If you can play good football this time of year, you can put your stamp on it.”

Last season, the Trojans claimed the region championship — despite losing to Buford, 45-16, in the final game of the regular season — after Buford was forced to forfeit an earlier pair of region victories for playing an ineligible player.

The Trojans remember that loss to Buford and how a pair of early turnovers in their own territory allowed Buford to get out to a comfortable lead.

“That’s a tough, tough situation,” Christmas said of the turnovers. “What happened to us, we got down early just on mistakes. And, of course, they’re very good so they are going to capitalize on every mistake you make.”

Like Buford, North Hall has shown the capability to score points in large chunks this season.

The Trojans have scored 50 or more points in five of their games, eclipsing the 60-point mark in three of those contests.

But, when the Trojans lined up against White County on Oct. 18, they were held to just seven points and were unable to muster much offensive production against a Warrior defense that loaded the box in order to stop the run-first attack.

Buford will do much of the same tonight, putting the pressure on North Hall senior quarterback Andrew Smith to throw more passes than normal.

Smith, who is just 5-foot-7, has attempted only 45 passes on the season, completing 24 of them for 541 yards and seven touchdowns. But, in last week’s run over Banks County, Smith was sharp and accurate; he completed 4 of 5 passes for 116 yards with a touchdown.

“I think you have to be able to throw, especially your play-action game against (Buford),” Christmas said. “It is something we work on and you have to be able to execute it against a very good defense.

“Dawson County had a little bit of success throwing on (Buford). But, they’re probably as good of a defense as I’ve seen.”

On the ground is where both teams do the majority of their damage. Both teams have more than 2,000 yards rushing this season and have multiple weapons that can score when given the football.

Zac Little leads North Hall with a team-best 1,028 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns, while Smith has 929 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns.

“I don’t know anyone that plays North Hall that doesn’t load the box,” Simpson said. “You have to. They’re so big and physical up front, they have two big fullbacks, they have halfbacks that can run and their best player is the quarterback, Smith. He is outstanding.

“The game plan, honestly, is finding a way to get off the field. They’re going to make their yards and get first downs and the game plan is to find a time on the drive to get them behind the sticks and force them to punt.”

Evyn Cooper (506 yards, 4 touchdowns), Joshua Thomas (488 yards, 9 touchdowns), Xavier Gantt (394 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Thomas Wilson (339 yards, 10 touchdowns) all lead an aggressive Buford rushing attack.

In the passing game, Buford’s two-headed quarterback attack of Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder has proven to be effective. Mitchell is completing 66 percent of his passes for 542 yards with six touchdowns, while
VanGorder, who used to attend North Hall, has completed 30 of 39 passes (79 percent) for 581 yards with eight scores.


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