Buford’s Isaac Nauta (18) sacks Banks County quarterback Noah Trebec (12) for a loss during a game earlier this season at Buford. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
During Buford’s long playoff run, the Wolves typically don’t face much opposition in the second round.
That may not be the case Friday night.
Buford will host a dangerous Woodward Academy team in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
“They have the kind of club that can compete for a championship this year,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. “There’s a reason they are in this place.”
The winner will face the winner of the Carver-Columbus vs. Jefferson County game in next week’s quarterfinals. Buford defeated Carver 31-7 in last year’s third round.
“You watch them on film and they get after it,” Simpson said of Woodward. “It feels like a Final Four game. We’ve got a tough draw in our bracket.”
Friday’s game may be one of the last for Buford in Class AAA. The Georgia High School Association announced this week the projected enrollment numbers for the 2014-15 school year and Buford is expected to move up to Class AAAA.
“We weren’t surprised by it. We knew because of the preliminary numbers we would probably move up. We kind of knew it was coming,” Simpson said. “As a (football) program and an athletic program we’re excited. It’s going to create new competition and new rivalries. Certainly, statewide with football there will be more competition when you look at the teams in there.”
Buford has reached the playoffs 15 straight years, which includes eight state championships. It’s won titles in three different classifications during that time.
“The last seven or eight years we have really grown,” Simpson said. “I don’t think any of us imagined going from AA to AAA for two years and now AAAA.”
Before Buford can think about leaving Class AAA with another state crown, it must first get past Woodward.
This will be the first time Buford has played Woodward in a varsity game. The Wolves have faced Woodward at the ninth-grade and JV level in recent years.
“We know a little about their scheme,” Simpson said. “It’s not like a varsity game, but you get an idea.”
Woodward has reached the second round of the playoffs four of the last five years, losing each time. The War Eagles haven’t won a second-round playoff game since 1999.
This year’s team only has two losses and they are to Class AA’s Lovett and Blessed Trinity. Both schools are still in the playoffs.
The War Eagles feature a 42-28 win over St. Pius, last year’s state runner-up.
“They scored 28 points on St. Pius,” Simpson said. “(Defensive coordinator) Jerry Stewart is a really good defensive coordinator and they put that many on them. That’s pretty good.”
Woodward’s offense is led by quarterback Terry Googer, a South Carolina commitment. Googer went into last week’s 53-21 win over North Oconee with 854 yards passing and eight TDs. He also leads the team in rushing with more than 1,000 yards.
“He’s a bigger version of (Gainesville’s) Deshaun Watson. He has a big arm,” Simpson said.
Sophomore running back Elijah Holyfield, the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, is the team’s second-leading rusher.
Jack Bryant, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound offensive lineman, is a college prospect and punter A.J. Cole is headed to N.C. State.
The group could pose the first threat to Buford all season. The Wolves have won by 46 points a game this year. They beat Sonoraville last week 58-0 for the fourth shutout of the year and the fifth time they’ve scored 50 or more points.
Joshua Thomas had a fumble returned 66 yards for a touchdown. He also had a one-yard touchdown run. The defense also added a safety.
“If we can steal one on special teams or defense, your chances of winning go up,” Simpson said.
Buford’s first-team hasn’t played a full game this season. They’ve played through three quarters against Elbert County, Gainesville and North Hall. That’s it. The rest of the time, Buford has relied on its backups.
“The emphasis we put on our program it doesn’t matter if it’s the first series or the fifth or sixth, we’re rotating 25 players in and out. We have five or six running backs that get the ball. We have seven or eight linemen and eight or nine defensive linemen we roll in and out. That’s how we are. They are unselfish. On offense, I’m sure no one has the stats they want, but that’s the way we do it. They stay fresher.”
Woodward Academy War Eagles (6-AAA)
Coach: John Hunt
Last week: Beat North Oconee 53-21
Buford Wolves (7-AAA)
Coach: Jess Simpson
Last week: Beat Sonoraville 58-0
Last meeting: First meeting
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
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