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Game of the Week: Buford travels to White County in 7-AAA battle
Buford High quarterback Montgomery VanGorder releases a pass as Gainesville High’s Alex Muckle rushes during their game Tom Riden Stadium in September.

HS football previews: Week 8

Buford at White County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: White County Stadium, Cleveland

Radio: 550-AM

Coaches: Buford, Jess Simpson; White County, Bill Ballard

Records: Buford (4-1, 2-0 Region 7-AAA); White County (4-1, 2-0)

Key players: Buford, RB/LB Dontravious Wilson (5-11, 215 Sr.); OL/DL Josh Cardiello (6-4, 285 Sr.); TE/LB Korie Rogers (6-2, 210 Jr.). White County, QB Will Brock (6-3, 198 Sr.), WR/FS Clay Rider (6-0, 175 Sr.), RB/OLB Will Stonecypher (5-11, 180 Sr.)

Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves haven’t allowed an opponent to score since Sept. 7 against Gainesville, and the Warriors will have to work around the loss to top running back and linebacker Dalton Whitfield.

White County quarterback Will Brock hears the buzz in the halls about tonight’s game against Buford.

It’s in the Warriors locker room as well.

“We go around school and people are asking us about the game, and our guys, they’re fired up and they’re ready for the challenge,” the senior said. “We haven’t played anybody like this except for Gainesville a few years ago.”

Both coaches and players know that the Warriors are big underdogs despite playing at home against a team with an identical 4-1 season record. But they can’t help but be excited going up against one of the state’s best.

“We’ve just got to do what we can do, because we’re pretty much as much of underdogs as we can be,” Brock said.

“For a Class AAA school with only 800 or so kids in the school, (Buford’s) got one of the largest football programs I’ve ever seen,” added White County coach Bill Ballard. “A great program, great coaches and a fertile football environment in Gwinnett. They’ve got everything we don’t, we’re just a little old mountain school.

“But I think our whole town’s excited about our kids, and there are a lot of positives going around right here. I’ve enjoyed coaching these kids as much as any team I’ve been apart of, because they play for each other.”

A lot of that has to do with the direction of a program that Ballard, who formerly coached at successful Atlanta-area schools Tucker and Peachtree Ridge, has built up since arriving before last season.

In the time since taking over he has worked to build a football program that might someday be able to compete with the Atlanta juggernauts, including instituting an expanded weight training program.

A 21-19 loss to Blessed Trinity was a good sign of the progress, not to mention the 4-1 start, 2-0 in Region 7-AAA.

“We showed that we can play with Blessed Trinity,” Brock said. “We feel like so far that we’ve had a pretty successful season.”

And the second-year signal caller, who leads the team with 285 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 50 carries out of the triple-option offense, is adjusting to life without top running back and linebacker Dalton Whitfield, who could possibly come back later in the season from injury, but not at least for a few more weeks.

Both quarterback and coach agreed that Whitfield can not be replaced, but in his place at linebacker are a pair of sophomores that the coach has been excited by in Sam Turner and Max Taylor. The two, along with junior Sean Greer, have filled out the running back positions.

“Dalton’s so good he’s always been my security blanket. So now I have to trust my other guys to make plays and I do trust them,” Brock said. “(Dalton) could make his own plays, now we’ve got to really execute. We’ve just got to be balanced.”

The team has maintained its balanced behind Brock, who has also passed for 342 yards and five touchdowns to effectively keep defenses honest. The offense has scored an average of 32 points per game.

Friday’s matchup, though, will be all about defense, as it matches the top two teams in the area in points allowed per game.

White County, led by area sacks leader Will Stonecypher (nine sacks), has averaged 13.6 points per game. Buford, led by Donte Gordon (four sacks and seven hurries), Terrance Wilson (two interceptions, two pass break-ups) and a number of other talented players, has allowed just 4.4 points per game, and none in the last three games. The Wolves defensive unit also leads the area with just 164.6 total yards allowed per contest.

The Wolves are a force on offense as well, led by senior running back Dontravious Wilson, who has 488 yards and eight touchdowns on just 40 carries. The unit has averaged 39.2 points per game and has scored over 60 in its last two.

Ballard said he’s impressed by the size of Buford’s players, noting that his best pass rusher, Stonecypher (5-11, 180) is a good bit smaller than Buford’s smallest player who will line up against him on the offensive line in junior tight end Korie Rogers (6-2, 210).

For that reason one of Ballard's main goals is to keep his players as healthy as possible heading into another key region game against North Hall the following week, a game which, if Buford lives up to its status as the region favorite, could possibly decide the No. 2 seed for the state playoffs.

“We’ve got a tough schedule for us remaining,” Ballard said. "So we hope we can be healthy running the gauntlet with the three best teams remaining.”

Of course, the Wolves are much too big of an opponent to overlook, so the Warriors are girding themselves for quite possibly their toughest test yet under Ballard.

“We realize they’re one of the best in Class AAA. Watching them on film they seem to be extremely formidable,” Ballard said. “We’re working on a program and trying to build a program, but we’re not there yet. We’re doing things to where we can compete with teams like that, but we’re just going into this game trying to do the best we possibly can.

“Our team has never played a team like this.”

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