Buford at Lovett
When: 7:30 Friday
BUFORD — At Buford High, being perfect in the regular season isn’t a requirement to make it to the ultimate destination of a matchup in the Georgia Dome for the state title game.
And to be bluntly honest, the second-ranked Wolves (3-1, 0-0 Region 6A-AA) don’t get all worked up about trying to win a region championship trophy — those sit in the backdrop of the seven state titles the school’s football program owns since 1978, six since 2001.
However, Friday’s game against Lovett (2-1, 0-0 Region 6B-AA) is important for a number of reasons. First, Buford wants to continue to show the progress they’ve made, mainly on the offensive front since a 14-0 loss to top-ranked Carver-Columbus in Week 2. On top of that, Buford wants to avoid its second regular season loss in the same season since 1998, which was the last year the Wolves didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Of course, players at Buford are most hyped up about this game with the revenge factor at play. The Wolves are trying to avenge a regular season loss last year at Lovett. In the end, the Lions won the Region 6-AA title, but Buford won its third consecutive state title.
“Lovett is a big region game for us,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “It’s been a great rivalry with the playoff games and state title matchups.”
This year, things are a little different. With the way that Region 6-AA was subdivided, these two schools are on the opposite side, which takes a little bit of the steam out of the region implications. But that doesn’t mean the Wolves don’t want to let Lovett feel what it’s like to lose in this rivalry that has produced seven meetings since 2005, including the 2007 state title game in Class AA.
“We want revenge,” said Buford senior Seon Jones. “We know this is a big game against Lovett and know it is going to be a great atmosphere for a game.
“We’re just ready to get down to business.”
This season, the first meeting of these two schools may not be the last. With the new region alignment, the top seed on each side of Region 6-AA will meet in Week 10 for a true region title game. However, Buford is clearly just focusing on this game for the time being.
“This game is a little different with that possibility that we could play again in Week 10,” Simpson said. “Right now, I think we’re searching to try and find our rhythm and identity on offense.”
In the skill positions, the Wolves are set with senior quarterback Alex Ross (528 passing yards, five touchdowns), running back Jones and tight end Dillon Lee leading the way. They’ll have a little more stability up front on the line when Vadal Alexander, a junior, is finally cleared to play after an offseason illness. The Wolves have also had other injuries to starters, including lineman Josh Cardiello, tight end/linebacker Nathan Staub (thigh bruise) and Tanner West.
“With these injuries, we’ve been forced to develop depth on top of depth,” Simpson said.
That doesn’t mean Lovett expects any sort of advantage in terms of able-bodied players. Lovett coach Mike Muschamp has been involved in this rivalry long enough to know Buford will have plenty of depth when it steps off the bus.
“Playing Buford every year is a great challenge because they are the best team in the state,” Muschamp said. “It gives us a great chance to see where we are as a team and as a program.”
Buford’s Eric Barr said losing to Carver this season was similar to last year’s loss against Lovett. He said simple lapses in execution and focus meant the difference in the game. After the loss to Lovett last season, the coaching staff turned up the intensity in practice and got exactly the response they were looking to see the rest of the season in 2009.
“We’re practicing a lot harder and listening to exactly what the coaches tell us to do,” Barr said. “Our coaches are like geniuses and know exactly what it takes to get us where we want to go.”