Cedar Grove at Buford
Cedar Grove Saints (6-AAA)
Coach: Ray Bonner
Last week: Lost to Blessed Trinity 28-22
Buford Wolves (7-AAA)
Coach: Jess Simpson
Last week: Beat North Hall 45-16
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting
Directions to Buford High School: I-985 north to Ga. Highway 20 exit, turn left. Turn right on Buford Highway to Robert Bell Parkway and turn left
Buford is back in the playoffs for the 14th straight year, but the Wolves don't have the same postseason hype as a year ago.
Buford moved up a classification this season, lost a rare regular season game and is ranked No. 3 in the state.
But that doesn't mean the same goal of winning a state championship isn't the aim. Buford (7-3) will host Cedar Grove (6-4) in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs tonight. The winner will play the North Oconee vs. Ringgold winner in the second round.
"It's kind of different compared to last year," Buford senior Mikey Bart said. "We have the same goals as last year. I think it will be real close games. We won't be blowing everyone out like last year."
Buford won games by an average of 36 points last year, but had a shocking overtime loss to Calhoun in the state finals. The Wolves had 12 players sign scholarships and graduated 20 starters from last year's team. They spent most of the regular season trying to build experience and depth. That wasn't easy with a rash of injuries throughout the season. Eight players suffered knee injuries. Most recently running back Dontravious Wilson, who will miss tonight's game. Wilson's injury doesn't require surgery, so there's hope he can return late in the playoffs.
"We've had our share of adversity," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "We've had some bad luck with injuries, but everyone has that."
To make things worse, Buford had to forfeit two blowout victories due to a clerical error and playing an ineligible player. That moved Buford from the No. 1 seed to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and against the talented Cedar Grove.
"Typically, our first-round opponent we've been superior to with better players," Simpson said. "This isn't your typical first-round game."
Cedar Grove, which is located Southeast of Atlanta in DeKalb County, is in the playoffs for the third straight season. The Saints' only region losses were to Blessed Trinity and state-ranked St. Pius.
"It's crazy. If you talk to St. Pius' Paul Standard or Blessed Trinity's Tim McFarlin they say they are the most talented team in that region," Simpson said.
Quarterback Jonathan McCrary is DeKalb County's leading passer this season with 2,355 yards and 23 TDs and is committed to Vanderbilt. He needs 305 yards to break the state record for passing yards in a career.
Receivers Jamir Hannah, who has Division I offers (36 catches, 662 yards, 8 TDs), Deion Sellers (34 catches, 433, 4) and Brandon Norwood (24, 408, 3 TDs) have been top targets. Sellers leads the team in rushing with 650 yards and 7 TDs.
"They are really big and really fast," Bart said. "They have the athletes to win."
The defense is led by one of the state's top junior linebackers in Bryson Allen-Williams, who has nearly a dozen Division I scholarship offers.
"Defensively, they create havoc," Simpson said. "They run and make plays."
It will be quite a challenge for a Buford team that has improved greatly since its only on-field loss to Gainesville in Game 2.
"I feel like we've been improving," Simpson said. "Other than about five minutes on Friday, that's the best we've played all year."
The quarterback tandem of Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder has worked nicely for the Wolves. Mitchell has thrown for 651 yards and six TDs, while Van Gorder has passed for 508 yards and six TDs. Neither has thrown an interception.
"They really complement each other well," Simpson said.
Zavior Hoxie will get the bulk of the action at running back with Wilson out. Hoxie has rushed for 537 yards and six TDs this season.
Linebacker Korie Rogers, who had an interception return for TD last week, leads the team in tackles with 65 and has five sacks. Deion King is second on the team with 56 tackles.
"It should be a pretty good game," Bart said. "Hopefully, we can wear them out. I think we're a lot more physical."
Buford enters the playoffs not ranked No. 1 or 2 for the first time since 2009. Thomson and Carver-Columbus are ranked ahead of the Wolves.
Both teams are on Buford's side of the bracket, but they wouldn't meet until the quarterfinals and semifinals of the playoffs."I think we've got a chance," Simpson said. "I'm not into making predictions. I think we've got a chance if we're focused Friday."