BUFORD — It looks like a change of venue in the playoffs is just a breath of fresh air for Buford’s football team.
After a win at Jefferson last week in the second round of the Class AA playoffs, the Wolves (12-1) returned home and defeated Cook 26-0 in the state quarterfinals Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium.
It was Buford’s first time playing at home since a win against Pepperell in the opening round of the playoffs. The win over Cook is also the last time playing at home for the third-ranked Wolves this season.
"It’s really sad that this is our last game at home, but I can’t think of a better way that we could go out," Buford senior lineman Shaun Artz said.
Next Friday, the Wolves head off to south Georgia to face second-ranked and No. 1 seed Fitzgerald (13-0). The Purple Hurricanes defeated Callaway 35-21 in the third round Friday.
"Fitgerald is an unbelievable team and it’s really going to be a four-quarter war," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "I know this is the best team coach (Robby) Pruitt has had since he’s had since he’s been coaching there.
"He’s got a lot of those guys back from when they played us last season, so we could probably prepare for this game without even having to trade tape."
With the win, Buford now stands two wins away from its third consecutive state title in Class AA ranks. The main difference is that in the past two seasons, Buford played at home all the way up to its games at the Georgia Dome. In 2007, Buford won the state crown on its own field.
However, don’t count the current Buford players as worried about having to go back on the road.
"All that matters is that we’re still playing," said Buford offensive lineman Kolton Houston. "That’s a great feeling."
Buford turned in a solid running performance in the first half to end No. 4-seeded Cook’s (7-6) run in the playoffs. The Wolves turned out big yards behind the running of Seon Jones (21 carries, 104 yards) early in the game and scored on a pair of short runs by senior Jessel Curry (9 runs, 30 yards) in the first half.
Curry finished with three rushing touchdowns and the team finished with 53 carries for 317 yards. On the night the Wolves put together 401 yards of total offense.
"I’m really excited how we played tonight," Simpson said. "We really started to grind on them with our offense and the line played great."
"That’s what we try to do is pound away up front behind our line," Artz said. "Eventually, we feel like we’ll be able to start wearing on the other team and we’ll be able to pop a big one."
On Buford’s opening drive, senior quarterback Alex Ross hit Jamal English for a 38-yard pass on a third-and-10, Darrian Smith had a 4-yard run on a third-and-3 and Curry scored on a run from the 1 three plays later.
The Wolves’ second drive in the first quarter was based on their ability to move the ball on the ground, then catch the defense off guard with play-action passes. Jones had most of the touches on the drive, with runs of 7, 12, 13 and 19 yards, which set up a 26-yard play action pass to Kurt Freitag for 26 yards down to the 2. Curry scored on the next play with a run right behind the line and it was 13-0, the lead Buford took into halftime.
Smith (8 carries, 89 yards) had Buford’s longest run of the night of 65 yards in the fourth quarter and Curry scored from the 1 three plays later, extending the lead to 20-0.
Rick Legrant added a 35-yard touchdown for the Wolves with 1:09 left in the game.
On defense, Buford kept Cook in long yardage situations most of the game. The Hornets could only muster 17 rushing yards and 129 yards of total offense.
The Hornets were able to put drives together in the second half; however, costly turnovers preserved Buford’s eighth shutout of the season.
Late in the first half, Buford’s Nathan Staub intercepted a pass from Cook’s Zach Folsom, and Andrew Swope recovered a fumble late in the third quarter for the Wolves. Mitchell De-Walt finished with three sacks for Buford.
Then in the fourth quarter, with Cook driving deep into Buford territory, sophomore defensive back C.J. Moore had an interception for the Wolves. Buford’s secondary also did a good job holding Cook’s spread offense to only 111 passing yards.
"Every time Cook started to get something going, our defense had an answer for it," Simpson said. "Our secondary is really coming on and gaining some confidence."