BUFORD — A state championship game featuring a rematch sounds like a rare occurrence. For Buford, it’s an old trick.
When the Wolves (14-0) play host to Lovett at tonight at 6 for the Class AA state championship, it will be the second time they have played the Lions (12-2) this season. Buford beat Lovett 21-0 on Nov. 9 to end the regular season.
In two of Buford’s three state championship years, it had to win a rematch in the finals for the title.
"It’s really unusual to hear of it," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "For us as a coaching staff, this is the fourth time we’ve done it since 2000."
In 2001, Buford beat Bowdon 40-0 in the regular season and 35-13 in the state championship. In 2002, the Wolves beat Greater Atlanta Christian 35-10 in the regular season and 34-10 in the state championship.
But Buford isn’t perfect in rematches.
When the Wolves lost to Commerce 27-19 for the Class A state title in 2000, it was the second time the teams had played that season. Buford lost to the Tigers 18-14 in the regular season that year.
Letting their win over Lovett a month ago get in their heads can only hurt the Wolves’ chances of winning their first state title since 2003.
"It’s hard because you say ‘Hey, we beat them once, we can beat them again,’" senior fullback Tyler King said. "That’s how you lose. If you have that attitude, you let up, they are going to beat you."
Most Buford players contend, however, that tonight’s title game is a rematch in name only.
"They got better on both sides of the ball and I know we are better," senior lineman Omar Hunter said. "It’s going to be two different teams playing."
Those two teams will have difference-making players on the field that didn’t make it out of the first quarter in the first game between Lovett and Buford.
Wolves senior quarterback Twoey Hosch left the game with a foot injury in the first quarter. Junior Michael May replaced Hosch and threw for two touchdowns.
Hosch is back, completing 5 of 7 passes for 73 yards last Saturday in the Georgia Dome, and is ready to quiet some of the pregame chatter coming out of Lovett.
"They were kind of talking some junk," Hosch said. "I’ve gotten a couple of messages over the internet about how I wasn’t really hurt and I was playing scared."
Hosch said he didn’t respond to the messages.
"I’m just waiting to play," he said.
In their 21-0 loss to Buford, the Lions were without arguably their best player, senior Andre Hicks, for the final three quarters.
Hicks, who is as versatile as any player on the field, ran for 106 yards on 17 carries in Lovett’s 29-16 win over Cook in the state semifinals last Saturday.
"He is their best returner, best cover corner and certainly their best running back, not to mention he can play slot receiver," Simpson said.
"He might be one of the best players in the state this year. He’s a special player."
His absence was clearly felt by the Lions in the Nov. 9 loss. Lovett rushed for minus 30 yards against the Wolves.
Lovett also succeeded in slowing down Buford’s versatile running attack, in a relative sense.
The Wolves still had 180 yards rushing on 33 carries, but they actually had more yards through the air (207) than on the ground. That’s rare for a team that can successfully rush Demetris Murray, Cody Getz or King out of the backfield.
"We had to pass it, which we haven’t had to do that much this year unless we wanted to," King said.
"We had to resort to that."
Simpson thinks Lovett’s success at slowing down the running game is a byproduct of how tough the Lions are against the pass.
"They’ve got two cover corners and if they want to put eight or nine in the box to stop the run, they can," he said. "That’s how they’ve treated everybody all year and they do a great job."
Lovett is giving up an average of 10.1 points per game.
The Lions and Charlton County are the only teams to hold Buford to under 35 points this season. The Wolves score an average of 45 points per game.
Buford’s defense, on the other hand, has put up numbers that aren’t rivaled by many. The Wolves are giving up an average of 4.7 points per game and have shutout six teams this year.
Against Lovett earlier in the year, Buford held the Lions to 38 yards of total offense, less than one yard per play. Lovett only had two yards of offense in the first half.
If the Wolves failed at anything in their first game against Lovett, it was keeping a level head. Buford had 11 penalties for 135 yards against the Lions. Lovett had two for 10 yards.
"Our composure was terrible in that game," junior Colt Ours said. "We had all kinds of penalties. We’ve been able to keep our composure a lot more. Now, we are ready to keep our heads on."
Like they have been all season, Buford’s players and coaches are focused intensely on adding a fourth silver state championship trophy to their fieldhouse trophy case.
Even with wins over both defending state co-champions and a shutout win over tonight’s opponent, the Wolves aren’t letting confidence blind their vision.
"If it were any other game, it might," Hosch said.
"But this is for the state championship. I think we’ll be fine."