The magical 2011 season for Buford football can be described in many ways.
Numbers like 14 wins, six shutouts and a defense that allowed just 8.3 points per game come to mind.
But for a team that begins each season with just one goal, one statistic sticks out the most.
No state championship.
The Wolves (14-1), who had won four straight Class AA state titles, put forth one of the most dominating seasons in recent memory, but were ultimately tripped up by Calhoun, 27-24, in overtime in the state championship game last Friday at the Georgia Dome.
“It’s unfortunate,” coach Jess Simpson said five days after the game. “These seniors accomplished a lot of things. I hate it for them that they have to go out on this note. But we’ve done a lot of winning in the past, and you’ve got to learn to take the bad along with the good.”
And for this senior class, there was plenty of good.
It was a part of three state champions, and had a chance to make Buford the first team in state history to win five consecutive titles; eight members of the class have already committed to Division-I football programs; and it compiled 27 consecutive wins, spanning from an early-season loss in 2010 to this season’s title game. In four years, it lost just three games.
This season, Buford opened with back-to-back shutouts of Blessed Trinity and Gainesville, the latter of which played in the Class AAA semifinals.
“You certainly have to tip your hat to those kids,” Simpson said of his seniors. “Most of them have played a pretty big role over the years. They’ve been a part of some special wins.”
But still, it’s the loss that sits with them the most. It’s the mark of a team that settles for nothing less than the best.
“The losses always sticks with you more than the wins,” Simpson said.
And while this one figures to stick with them for awhile, Simpson said there were plenty of reasons to be proud not only of the wins this season, but also of how his team handled the loss.
For one, the team never quit in the game. Down by two scores, the Wolves scored twice in the final two minutes to force overtime.
“Nine out of 10 teams would have folded,” Simpson said. “But it’s a credit to those boys that they didn’t quit. Our coaches always stayed positive with them on the sidelines.”
And then there’s the way the team has handled the loss after the game, a difficult task for any team, but perhaps more difficult for Buford when you consider it hadn’t tasted failure in so long.
“Most of our kids have done a great job handling this,” Simpson said. “Part of life is losing and being able to get up the next day and credit your opponent for the job they did. We don’t make excuses. A lot of our guys showed me more about who they are with how they’ve handled this.”
And, Simpson said, there are still positives to be taken away.
Above football, he is in the business of helping boys grow into men, and the success of this team, he said, may not be known until years down the road.
“My first perspective of football is what kind of men are these guys going to be,” he said. “How are they going to represent themselves and their families? When you talk about Buford lately, if you don’t win a championship, it’s not what you want to be. That’s hard, but that’s where the bar’s been set.
“We can’t call that game (against Calhoun) a victory, that’s for sure. But, I think when I step back, I can be excited about how far they’ve come.”
Now, Simpson and the Wolves must move forward. While the loss is still fresh on his mind, he has already begun turning his attention toward next season.
He met to discuss next year’s schedule on Monday, and is already thinking about the players he’ll have returning and how he’ll replace the 30 seniors that will graduate.
“Football never stops,” he said. “I’ll take a deep breath over Christmas, and then we’ll come back in January. Our goal will be the same: win the day, win the month and win the offseason.”
And then, maybe they’ll have another shot to get back to the top.