Posted: Thursday, November 22nd 2012 at 12:02am
Buford ready for rare road trip
By Jeff Hart Staff
Buford quarterback Montgomery VanGorder flips the ball to an official after scoring in a game played earlier this season. / photo: David McGregor
BUFORD – It may not be Panama City Beach, but Buford coach Jess Simpson said they are itching for a road trip to North Oconee Friday in the second round of the Class AAA playoffs.
The Region 7-AAA No. 2 seeded Wolves (8-3) head to Bogart to take on the Region 8-AAA champion Titans (10-1) with a shot at their 12th straight trip to the quarterfinals. It is just the second road playoff game for Buford since 2009.
Buford is accustomed to playing host at Tom Riden Stadium during the post-season. But because of the forfeiture of two region games midway through the season, the Wolves find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of charting a path back to the Georgia Dome through opponents’ stadiums in 2012.
“We’re very excited about hitting the road,” Simpson said. “There’s something special about being on the road in a big game. We may be a better road team this year and I think the kids are going to step up to the challenge. I think the fans would probably rather be at home but we don’t care as long as we’re still getting to play.”
As far as a body of work goes, it doesn’t look like much. But Buford’s perfect 4-0 record in road playoff games under Simpson speaks volumes about how the Wolves prepare when the games matter most.
“We really don’t do anything different, whether we are at home or going on the road,” Simpson said. “We have our meetings, our walk-through, and then we feed the guys. We always have chicken sandwiches and fries. It’s worked well for us so far.”
Simpson should know. He has been with the Wolves’ program since 1995 and as head coach for the past eight seasons. You have to go all the way back to the 2000 Class A title game against Commerce to find the last road playoff loss for Buford.
Friday’s tilt with North Oconee could be a similar affair like the Wolves experienced against Gainesville earlier in the year. Preseason all-state pick Nick Colvin is a mobile, dual-threat at quarterback, much like Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson, and also has two talented running backs to add plenty of balance.
“Their quarterback is very dangerous but they have about four guys that can hurt you on any play,” Simpson said. “I expect a very tough game. Our run defense has to stay focused on their assignments.”
North Oconee is averaging 39.1 ppg and has scored 35 or more on offense 10 times while the defense is allowing just 9.1 ppg with three shutouts.
One key area for Buford will be its quarterback play in the platoon of juniors Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder. Neither has played in a meaningful road playoff game and how they respond to a hostile environment could set the tone early.
Mitchell, a self-described “calm” leader, is slated to get the call on the first series and said he is approaching things like any other Friday night.
“I don’t usually get that nervous before games,” Mitchell said. “I know there’s more at stake but I’m just trying to do what I do every week for a game. The main thing is not to put any extra pressure on myself and just try to execute early and get some early momentum for the team.”
VanGorder, who said he gets butterflies before every game, also said he is ready for his first road playoff game and is just trying to focus on what he does best.
The Buford offense, behind the play of Mitchell and VanGorder, has been rolling averaging 44 ppg over its past six games. The defense is allowing 11 points a game over that same span.
Simpson said despite a lack of road playoff experience with this group, he knows they will get North Oconee’s best game and are preparing for any contingency.
“We always get everyone’s best shot,” he said. “There are three areas for every team: physical, mental, and emotional. We always get all three from teams so hopefully we will rise to the challenge. It should be a great atmosphere for the players and fans.”
NOTES: Buford has won 12 straight second round games. The last loss in the second round was a 28-0 decision to Washington-Wilkes in 1999….North Oconee has never advanced past the second round. The Titans are 0-3 in second round games, including a 26-13 loss to Appling County last year in Class AA.
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