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Improved Spartans to test mettle vs. No. 2 Wolves

The last time Greater Atlanta Christian played Buford was Nov. 6, 2009. The Spartans toted a forgettable season and a 1-8 record into that game, which ended with a 45-14 loss.

Fast forward to this point and it’s easy to see GAC’s turnaround.

BUFORD AT GAC

Buford Wolves (6-AA, Div. A)

Coach: Jess Simpson

Record: 7-1, 3-0 subregion

Last week: Beat Avondale 48-2

GAC Spartans (6-AA, Div. A)

Coach: Tim Cokely

Record: 6-1, 2-0 subregion

Last week: Beat Clarkston 42-7

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Buford won 45-14 last year

Directions to Greater Atlanta Christian School: From I-85, go east on Indian Trail Road and school is on the right.

Series history:

2009: Buford 45, GAC 14

2008: Buford 34, GAC 6

2007: Buford 42, GAC 7

2006: Buford 20, GAC 7

2005: Buford 28, GAC 12

2004: Buford 31, GAC 28

2003: Buford 30, GAC 0

2002: Buford 34, GAC 10 (state championship)

2002: Buford 35, GAC 10

1999: Buford 33, GAC 14

1998: GAC 14, Buford 0

1997: GAC 21, Buford 20

1996: Buford 40, GAC 21

1993: Buford 27, GAC 7

1992: Buford 35, GAC 0

First-year head coach Tim Cokely has his team 6-1 overall and 2-0 in Region 6-AA, Division A. Tonight’s matchup with Buford now means something, with the winner claiming the subregion championship.

Buford, ranked second in Class AA, has manhandled GAC in recent years, but the Wolves (7-1, 3-0) aren’t taking their rival lightly.

“We’ve had a really good week, the kids are focused,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. “It didn’t take three minutes of watching that (GAC) tape for them to know what kind of game we’re in for. It’s going to be a tough one.”

It appeared GAC had been closing the gap on perennial power Buford, at least until losing the last three meetings by 31, 28 and 35 points. The Spartans have won just twice in the long-running series, back-to-back wins in 1997 and 1998.

Cokely at least has them headed back in that direction with an impressive start to his debut season.

“We’ve been watching them, they’re a good football team,” Simpson said. “They’re good in all three phases. They take a lot of pride in the kicking game. They return and cover kicks well. Their defense is committed to stopping the run and their front is playing hard. And offensively they’re scoring points on everybody.”

Cokely made no secret about his plans in the preseason, opting to use his best players to shore up what had been a struggling defense. Most of those same players are used on offense, but nearly all of the offensive positions feature a rotation of players.

That includes quarterback, where Jared Chapple and David McTier split time.

“During the season we’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of the ball,” Cokely said. “We’re a very pedestrian offensive football team, just a bunch of guys. What makes us successful a little bit is we don’t turn the ball over and we don’t make mistakes. We’ll have to do that again Friday night.”

The one mistake-filled game GAC played was Sept. 17 against Westminster, its only loss. Since that 24-13 setback, the Spartans have defeated two good teams in Blessed Trinity and Decatur before routing Clarkston.

Beating Buford will require another level of performance, though. The three-time defending state champions carry a 10-game winning streak over GAC.

“Buford’s fantastic in every area,” Cokely said. “They’re coached well. They’re disciplined. They’re things every high school coach wants your team to be. It’s a privilege to play them. It’s fun. It’s why we coach games like this. It truly is David vs. Goliath, but our kids will have fun.

“Our kids don’t feel like there’s much pressure on them. We’re expected to lose. The pressure comes when you’re supposed to win. That’s when I feel pressure, when someone says, ‘Coach, you’ve got this one.’ But in a game like this, we’re the underdog so we can just relax and go play.”

Buford is recovering from a major setback from last week’s game. Standout linebacker/fullback Nathan Staub suffered a season-ending knee injury, dealing a big blow to the Wolves, who will rely on Malik Green to replace Staub at linebacker.

“(Staub) was a big loss,” Simpson said. “Not just as a player but he’s such a great leader in the huddle.”