The years change, but the formula hasn’t.
Under head coach Jess Simpson, the Buford Wolves have always been a ferocious defensive team, and they pound away on opponents with their over-powering running game.
It’s not fancy, but it sure has been effective.
The Wolves have won state championships in five of the past six years under Simpson, and they’re two wins away from adding another title to the ledger.
Going back to 2001, Buford has won eight state titles, and two other times it has lost in the state-championship game.
That’s the challenge confronting the Callaway Cavaliers, who’ll visit Buford tonight in a Class AAA semifinal game.
The winner will play either Washington County or Ringgold in the championship game next weekend in the Georgia Dome.
It’s a massive challenge, but it’s one the Callaway players are embracing.
“We’re ready for it,” senior linebacker KeShun Freeman said. “If we put our mind to it, we can do it. That’s what we’ve been doing all season. That’s what we’re going to stick with.”
Freeman added that “we’re just going in ready to win.”
Senior offensive lineman Brandon Sutton said “we’re 100 percent confident.”
“They’re just players,” Sutton added. “You just have to be ready to play.”
Here’s what the Wolves have done this season.
They’re 13-0, they’ve outscoring their opponents by an average score of 49-6, and no one in the playoffs has come within 30 points of them.
On offense, Buford does it with a power running game that features a host of players capable of carrying the ball effectively.
The two primary ball-carriers are Joshua Thomas and Thomas Wilson, who have combined to run for nearly 1,500 yards while scoring 27 touchdowns.
The Wolves have run for 3,450 yards, an average of 265 yards per game.
“They really only run five or six plays,” Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said. “They run the power, they run the belly, the toss. They don’t really try to fool you.”
It works for the Wolves, who are closing in on a state record for points scored in a season.
With 648 points, Buford isn’t far away from the state record of 682 points set by Dublin in 2006.
Buford was held to a season-low in points in last week’s 36-6 win over Carver.
Buford carried the ball 48 times for 205 yards.
There weren’t many big plays, but after taking a big early lead, Buford kept churning out first downs and running the clock.
“Running the football on those guys is hard,” Simpson told the Gwinnett Daily-Post. “They are very talented on defense. We really kept pounding. It was very patient. It may not have looked glamorous, but those three-, four- and five-yard runs we kept hammering helped us move the chains and flip the field.”
Buford’s defense, meanwhile, has been outstanding this season.
The Wolves haven’t allowed more than 14 points in a game, and in the playoffs, they’ve given up 13 points in three games.
Hubbard said Buford’s defense is designed to force teams to put together long drives and not give up big plays.
“They play a cover-two look,” Hubbard said. “They put their secondary back there deep. You’re not going to do much throwing past them. And they do a great job of coming up tackling.
“They’re just really, really well-coached on defense. They don’t really try a whole lot. They don’t play a whole lot of man coverage. They don’t blitz a lot. They kind of sit back there and bait and play technique.”
Hubbard said the strength of Buford’s defense are the linebackers.
“Their linebackers are so good,” Hubbard said. “They’re as good a group of high-school linebackers as I’ve seen in a long time.”
Put it all together, and you have a Buford team that many consider to be the best in the state, regardless of classification.
The Cavaliers are playing tremendous football, though, and they’re ready.
“We know that Buford’s got a great football team,” Wiggins said. “That’s no secret. But again, we’re going to go and play Callaway football, and we’re excited about it.”
HOW BUFORD GOT HERE
Aug. 30 - Buford 46, Elbert County 7
Sept. 6 - Buford 38, Gainesville 14
Sept. 13 - Buford 63, Hancock Central 0
Sept. 27 - Buford 63, Banks County 0
Oct. 4 - Buford 63, West Hall 0
Oct. 11 - Buford 42, White County 6
Oct. 18 - Buford 42, Dawson County 10
Oct. 25 - Buford 45, Fannin County 8
Nov. 1 - Buford 70, East Hall 6
Nov. 8 - Buford 42, North Hall 14
Nov. 15 - Buford 58, Sonoraville 0
Nov. 22 - Buford 40, Woodward Academy 7
Nov. 29 - Buford 36, Carver 6