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Buford football seeks region redemption
Wolves take on Westminster in Region 6-AA championship Friday
Buford High’s Rick Legrant, left, and Eric Barr, right, swarm Gainesville High running back Keyontra Harrison during the Wolves’ 2010 season opener at Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

On Friday, Buford will seek its ninth region title in 10 years when it plays host to Westminster at 7:30 p.m. at Tom Riden Stadium.

The No. 2-ranked Wolves (8-1) will play No. 7 Westminster (7-2) for the Region 6-AA title. On Sept. 10, Buford handled the Wildcats 32-10 to rebound from its only loss of the season, a 14-0 defeat to No. 1 Carver-Columbus of 5-AA.

“We consider (Friday’s game against Westminster) to be even more of a challenge,” Wolves coach Jess Simpson said. “The last game was a tremendous challenge. We scored on defense and in the kicking game, but offensively they slowed us down.

“We’ve played them the last three years and we know how good they are and it’s going to be even tougher to beat them twice.”

If the Wolves beat Westminster a second time, they’ll earn a No. 1 seed and the right to play at home through at least the first two rounds of the Class AA playoffs.

The Wolves, who have won the last three Class AA state titles, would be on their quest for a 10th consecutive region title, but last year Lovett beat them 28-21 in Week 4. However, they went on to close the season on a 12-game winning streak that ended with a 13-10 defeat of Calhoun in the final — the second-straight year Buford beat Calhoun for the state championship.

Simpson said Buford is determined to reclaim the region title.

“We’re extremely focused this week,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake. Having a No. 1 versus a No. 2 seed is a big deal that could make all the difference. We’re not looking past this Friday. For us, the playoffs start this week.”

There’s a chance Friday’s rematch will be closer than the first meeting. In fact, the first Wolves-Wildcats game was close most of the way until Buford pulled away in the fourth quarter.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Buford only led 16-10. Also, the Wolves were aided by the play of defensive back Eric Barr, who returned a blocked field goal 95 yards for a touchdown and took an interception back 70 yards for a score. The Wolves also recorded a safety on a Wildcats miscue.

Friday, Buford will be without one of its best linebackers, Nathan Staub, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago against Avondale. Staub is fourth on the team in tackles with 41, including three for loss and two sacks.

“We’re banged up this time of the year like most teams are,” Simpson said. “If one goes down, the other man has got to step in.”

Staub has been replaced in the lineup by Malik Green, who has 23 tackles on the season, three for loss.

Green and the rest of the Wolves’ defense will have to come up with a way to contain Wildcats running back Ralph Abernathy IV, who in the first Buford-Westminster game led all rushers with 89 yards on 15 carries. Last week against Lovett, Abernathy rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

The Wolves will counter with the 1-2 punch of Seon Jones and Dominique Swope. Jones has rushed 91 times for 759 yards and seven touchdowns, and Swope has 55 carries for 388 yards and five touchdowns.

Quarterback Alex Ross is 55-for-99 passing (56 percent) with 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and receiver Dillon Lee has only nine receptions on the year, but eight of them have been touchdowns, tops among Buford receivers. Lee also leads the team with 295 receiving yards.

“Our ninth title in 10 years may be a big deal to some,” said Simpson, “but we’re not focused on how many region titles we’ve won, or what happened last year. Winning this week and securing the top seed is really what these kids are focused on.”

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