BUFORD — Ho hum.
Another playoff victory. Another semifinal berth. And another blowout victory in the Georgia high school playoffs. Yep, this is familiar territory for Buford High.
The top-ranked Wolves blew past Elbert County 49-13 on Friday at Tom Riden Stadium in the quarterfinal round of the Class AA playoffs. Nathan Staub and Andre Johnson each scored two touchdowns, and Buford (13-0) was its usual stellar self on defense.
It all added up to the Wolves’ 15th trip to the semifinals in the program’s remarkable history. Buford advanced to play No. 4 Carver-Columbus, a 34-21 winner Friday over Fitzgerald. A coin toss today will decide the location.
Most schools would rejoice at such a feat as moving into the final four. Not Buford.
“We didn’t set our goals in the summer to reach the semifinals,” senior lineman Vadal Alexander said. “We did it to play in the finals and win another championship.”
Nine times in the previous 11 seasons, Buford advanced to the semifinal round. Seven of those seasons ended in state championships, including the last four. So things are going according to plan through this point in the season.
What else is new?
“This team is on a mission,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “We have a group of seniors who won’t be satisfied with just getting back to the semifinals. If you want to be the best, you have to do the work every day. It shows in practice, in our preparation and studying in the film room. That’s just business as usual.”
Jaylen Mize returned an interception 12 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter for Buford, and Staub broke open the game with an 82-yard touchdown on a screen pass from quarterback Sam Clay two possessions later. Offensively, that was more than enough. Dontravious Wilson and Ryan Mack each added second-half touchdowns for good measure.
“Our defense helps alter the game for us,” Simpson said. “It allows the offense to get into a rhythm of moving the ball, and it’s hard for teams to get back once we get ahead. It happened again (Friday). Elbert County was fast and they were physical. They’re a great team, and there was a reason they got to this point.”
And there’s a reason why Buford is moving on. Buford simply dominated defensively. There was Mize’s critical interception return, for starters. The Blue Devils ran just 14 plays for 16 yards in the first half and had the football for only 5:36 — an average of 1.1 yards per play and 1:24 per possession.
It may sound passé, but Buford still believes that defense wins championships. Through 13 games, the Wolves are letting their actions speak for themselves. After all, it’s what they have done for the last decade.
“We’re doing what we’re coached to do,” said Mize, a junior. “We pride ourselves on dominating defensively and we did it again. Tradition is big here. Anything less than going to the Georgia Dome and winning another title is unacceptable.”