BUFORD — The last time the Buford High football program didn’t win the region title, Bill Clinton still occupied the White House.
Barring an upset, the Wolves’ string of eight-consecutive outright region crowns will come to an end this season, mainly as a result of an early-season loss to Lovett (7-1, 4-1 Region 6-AA).
It would be justified for such a reality not to sit well with a program that is the back-to-back state champs in Class AA. Think about it, most of the players that wear the Wolves jersey currently wouldn’t have even been able to tell you what a loss tasted like prior to this season since Buford (7-1, 4-1) was riding a 49-game regular-season winning streak and back-to-back 15-0 seasons prior to the loss in this year’s region opener against the Lions.
Well, be ready to be surprised.
“I think it helped us to have that early loss in the season,” Buford senior lineman and University of Georgia verbal commit Kolton Houston said. “You’re not able to find your true character if you don’t lose.
“It’s real humbling.”
Of course, the forecast for Buford’s postseason hopes are still pretty bright otherwise. The Wolves control their own destiny and could essentially lock up the No. 2 seed and a first-round home playoff game with a win against Westminster (6-2, 5-0) on Friday at Tom Riden Stadium. The final game of the regular season for Buford is at winless Greater Atlanta Christian (0-8, 0-5).
“This game against Westminster is going to be really huge,” Wolves senior lineman Mitchell DeWalt said. “We’ve just got to put in the work to get ready for this one and take it day by day.”
Of course, nothing with regards to the 6-AA title will be finalized until the end of regular season. Lovett still has to face Avondale (5-3, 3-2) and Decatur (4-4, 2-3) before it is all said and done. After playing Buford, Westminster still has to face Blessed Trinity (5-3, 2-3).
“Blessed Trinity is a team that could beat anyone in the region,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said.
Bottom line: there’s still a lot of football left to play before crowning a school not located on Sawnee Avenue the region champion.
However, the Wolves aren’t going to break down in an emotional mess if they don’t enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. As a senior, Houston sees the advantages of entering the playoff bracket as the second seed.
“The No. 2 seed is the best spot,” Houston said. “It’s the easiest path to winning the state title.
“You don’t have the target of being the No. 1 seed and region champion.”
Buford has shown in the past that it could live with carrying the second seed to the playoffs. In 2000, the Wolves, then in Class A, advanced to the state title game and lost to the champion from their Region 8-A that season, Commerce. Buford also is well aware of the success of its neighbor to the north, Flowery Branch, who went in as a No. 3 playoff seed in 2008 and battled to the state championship game in Class AAA.
Clearly, the region title may not fall in line at Buford this season but its state title dreams are still alive and well. They have a tradition of excellence to fall back on.
“After losing, we had to all realize that Buford is Buford because of how hard we work,” Houston said. “What matters most is how we finish the season.”
Simpson says the biggest change in the season was assessing the “brutal facts” after losing to Lovett. Then and there, they saw it that a region title may be out of hand. However, they were handed a bit of a favor when Lovett lost to Westminster, which had to be considered a bit of an upset at the time.
For Buford to make a run at earning a home playoff game, Simpson knew that the defense had to get better. They’ve responded by allowing only one touchdown (Thomson) since the loss to Lovett and none in four straight region wins. The Wolves are allowing just a sliver more than 100 yards of offense per outing and only allowed 40 yards against Blessed Trinity last Friday.
“We’ve steadily improved over the last six weeks,” Simpson said.