Photo: David McGregor Buford's Zavior Hoxie (25) breaks free from an attempted tackle by a Cedar Grove defender during the Wolve's first round victory over the Saints in the Class AAA state playoffs.
Buford at North Oconee
Buford Wolves (7-AAA)
Coach: Jess Simpson
Last week: Beat Cedar Grove 41-27
North Oconee Titans (8-AAA)
Coach: Terry Tuley
Last week: Beat Ringgold 37-14
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Buford won 44-7 in 2008
Directions to North Oconee High School: I-85 north to Exit 126, turn right on Ga. Hwy. 211. In Winder, turn right on Horton Street and take the first left onto U.S. Hwy. 29-BR/Ga. Hwy. 8, then take a right onto Hog Mountain Road/U.S. Hwy. 29-BR/Ga. Hwy. 8/Ga. Hwy. 53. Follow Ga. Hwy. 53/Hog Mountain Road and turn left on Rocky Branch Road in Bogart.
A few events seemingly could have pushed Buford's football team into more of an underdog role this season.
The Wolves, with a huge senior class, lost nearly every starter and contributor off last year's state runner-up team and moved up a classification to Class AAA this season. A clerical error forced them to forfeit two region wins, leading to an un-Buford-like 7-3 regular-season record and an unusual No. 2 seed for the state playoffs.
Does all of that mean Buford is an underdog now? Not exactly.
Even though the Wolves have an 8-3 record and face a rare road playoff game Friday, they still sport a No. 3 state ranking. That's higher than the team they face --eighth-ranked North Oconee (10-1).
It seems Buford's reputation, as the winner of four state titles from 2007-10 and nearly a fifth in a row last season, prevents them from getting an underdog role.
"My personal opinion is we're still going to get the best effort from every team we play," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "We can say we're under the radar, but the opposition is not going to look past us. They're going to bring their 'A' game.
"Our kids have to be mature about that when we're preparing. Teams are preparing for us like it's their Super Bowl."
The Wolves got another taste of that last week as Cedar Grove, a much tougher first-round foe than Buford has faced in years, provided a first-round fight. Buford eventually held on for a 41-27 win, but never fully put the game out of reach.
There was no first-round blowout this season.
"Every time we were about to put them away, we'd miss a tackle or lose contain on a kickoff," Simpson said. "There were a couple of points where we got up three or four scores but instead of putting it away we let them hang around."
Cedar Grove's skill players were a good test for what is coming in North Oconee, which is led by standout sophomore running back Kawon Bryant and multi-purpose threat Nick Colvin.
Bryant has rushed for 1,089 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Colvin is a threat whether he lines up at quarterback, tailback, wide receiver or safety. Colvin, a senior, has thrown for 881 yards and 10 touchdowns, has rushed for 647 yards and seven TDs and has 15 catches for 241 yards and two TDs.
"(Colvin's) one of those kids who can do it all," Simpson said.
With those catalysts, the Titans have steamrolled every opponent since a season-opening 50-14 loss at St. Pius in which Bryant didn't play. The Region 8-AAA champions have averaged 41.7 points since their only loss.
They face a Buford defense that was stout until Cedar Grove put up 27 points last week. No other opponent had scored more than 19 points all season against the Wolves, who have held six opponents to three points or less.
The Buford offense has put up pretty huge numbers, too. It's scored 41 or more points in eight of the last nine games, the lone sub-40 outing coming Oct. 19 in a 34-3 win over Dawson County.
Two-way standouts Mikey Bart (three catches for 62 yards. a touchdown and 7 quarterback pressures last week) and Josh Cardiello have played well of late, Simpson said, as has Korie Rogers. The quarterback rotation of Montgomery VanGorder and Taylor Mitchell continues to work well. VanGorder completed 6 of 7 passes for 116 yards and three scores last week and their season numbers are nearly identical, combining for 87 of 128 passing (68 percent) for 1,344 yards and 15 TDs with no interceptions.
Joshua Thomas rushed for three TDs vs. Cedar Grove to aid the offense, while Terrance Wilson had five tackles and an interception on defense.
The Wolves field another talented team, one that doesn't seem to be viewed differently this season by its opposition. That makes sense, considering the in-house expectations haven't changed, either.
"Playing at Buford, (the state title) is always the goal," Simpson said. "That's part of it around here. That doesn't change."