High school football playoffs: Buford defense packs same punch, despite loss of '11 stars

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 30, 2012 

The Buford High football team, Carver’s opponent in the Class AAA quarterfinals tonight, has won state titles in four of its past five seasons. The fact that it didn’t make it five in a row in 2011 still merits some surprise.

Perhaps the best of any of the five Wolves teams, the 2011 edition won 14 consecutive games in dominant fashion, particularly on defense. It recorded six shutouts and allowed an average of just six points per game during the winning streak.

Then, improbably, it lost 27-24 in overtime to Calhoun in the Class AA state championship game.

Along with its winning streak and its title streak, Buford also lost the majority of the defense that made it such an unstoppable force for most of the season.

Linebacker Dillon Lee, the top-rated prospect of the unit, will don the crimson and white of Alabama at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. So will Kurt Freitag, a tight end who also took snaps on defense. Cornerback Paris Head is now a Commodore at Vanderbilt. Linebacker Nathan Staub plays for North Carolina and cornerback C.J. Moore ended up at Virginia. Even Ryan Dillard, who wasn’t quite as highly sought after as some of the others landed in a good spot: A preferred walk-on at Southern California.

Those were players the Wolves had to replace on defense. It was essentially a farm club for Division-I football.

“We lost 20 starters off of last year’s team (including offense),” coach Jess Simpson said. “It was our largest senior class ever. We lost about 30-31 kids. A bunch of our twos were also seniors. We didn’t have a lot of experience coming back.”

Nobody would have batted an eye if the team had slipped a little in 2012.

Perhaps it did.

It lost its second game of the season, 19-15, to Class AAAAA’s Gainesville High. Simpson noted that the team faced more adversity this year than last with new starters and a host of injuries.

After the loss to Gainesville, though, it was Buford football all over again.

--Sept. 14 vs. Hancock Central: win, 43-0

--Sept. 28 vs. Banks County: win, 63-0 (later forfeited due to an ineligible player who played at the end of the game)

--Oct. 5 vs. West Hall: win, 61-0 (later forfeited)

While it played, perhaps, an easier schedule this season than last and it certainly doesn’t boast the same star power it did a year ago, the Buford defense has thus far matched the on-field production:

Six shutouts and allowing 7.3 points per game through 12 games.

“If you look at us 12 weeks ago and now, we look like a totally different team,” Simpson said.

That’s probably accurate. Earlier in the season, the Wolves may not have been able to shutout North Oconee, a top-10 ranked team on a 10-game winning streak. But that’s what they did last week.

“What they do, they do well,” Carver coach Dell McGee said. “It’s going to take our best effort.”

That, perhaps, tells the story.

Whereas many schools see talent come and go and experience an ebb and flow of success, Buford simply reloads.

A team doesn’t go to five straight state title games by accident.

There is a tradition within the program, a tradition which players grow up learning in middle school and youth programs.

Once they done the green and white in high school, they understand what is expected of them and how to accomplish it on the field.

So, while the team may not be quite us star-studded in 2012 as it was in 2011, it nonetheless poses the same threat it did a year ago.

It could be argued, in fact, that it has become more dangerous.

The only thing scarier than a Buford team that everyone expects to win is a Buford team that people begin to doubt.

Can Carver win the game tonight?

Certainly. It may be the better team, and it has trudged a similar path as the Wolves so far this season.

But let it be known that, while it isn’t as big or as fast as it was a year ago, the Buford defense is still equally effective.

And that has everyone on high alert.

“We know it is going to take our best effort,” McGee said.

Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports for updates during tonight’s games.

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