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Posted: Wednesday, December 5th 2012 at 3:02pm

Current Wolves defense on pace with program's best-ever

By Jeff Hart Staff
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A Buford defender slams into a Carver, Columbus, ball carrier in last week's quarterfinal win for the Wolves. / photo: David McGregor
BUFORD – Quick. Name the starters for the 2012 Buford defensive unit.

Can’t remember them all?

How about six? Three?

One?

While diehard Buford fans could probably rattle off most, if not all 11 starters, the casual fan would be hard-pressed to recognize any of the current unit. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the usual bread-and-butter of the Wolves has slipped any.

The 2012 unit is on pace for its best statistical season since the 2007 team, which held opponents to a ridiculous 4.4 points a game while winning the Class AA state title. The 2012 team has allowed just 7.3 points a game. Take out a 27-point effort by Cedar Grove in the first round of the playoffs and the 2012 defense would have better numbers than the state-title team of 2003 (5.9 ppg).

Buford (10-3) will put those numbers to the test Friday night in the Class AAA semifinals against an explosive Cartersville (13-0) team in a showdown for a spot in the finals at the Georgia Dome next week.

What’s even more impressive is that coming into the 2012 season, the Wolves had to replace nine full-time starters, including seven that signed major college scholarships, from last year’s team that allowed just 7.4 points a contest.

Even coach Jess Simpson had to admit he wasn’t sure what to expect as they gathered for spring practice.

“We lost a lot of players and we had a lot of younger guys who played last year but honestly there were several guys who I wasn’t sure would be much of an impact,” he said. “In my mind it was the biggest question we had coming into the year. But we’ve had some great surprises.”

Most notable among that group was senior defensive lineman Brandon Brinson.

“I wasn’t really sure what we had with Brandon when the spring started but by the time it ended he was probably the most positive surprise of the spring,” Simpson said. “He carried that into the start of the fall and has really developed into a solid player and leader for us.”

Brinson said it was just a matter of urgency, a frequent realization for seniors.

“It was my senior year and I felt it was time to be one of the leaders on the team and make sure I was playing the best that I could,” he said Tuesday after practice. “I want my last year to be a good one and that has helped motivate me this year.”

Senior linebacker Mickey Bart said they have been playing with a little bit of chip on their shoulder all year, which has helped them develop an edge.

“Last year we probably had more pressure on us because we had so many studs on the team that we were expected to win it all,” he said. “This year I don’t think a lot of people thought we could be as good as the teams in the past. We just came in as a unit together saying we want to show people how good we could be. I think we’ve opened a few eyes.”

Brinson said chemistry has been a big factor.

“There were a lot of all-stars on that team last year and some played a little more for themselves. This year everyone is playing more as a team and trying to pick each other up each week,” he said. “This group is real close.”

Senior defensive tackle Josh Cardiello (a University of Georgia commit) along with junior linebacker Korie Rogers also have stepped up as leaders and senior linebacker Bryson Jordan has had a solid season.

“Josh has played up to his ability and Korie and Bryson have really stepped up for us,” Simpson said. “This has probably been one of the more satisfying seasons because these kids have been a pleasant surprise all season.”

It’s hard to imagine a bigger surprise than last week’s dominating 31-7 win over Carver, Columbus on the road. The Tigers, who featured four runners with 500 or more yards rushing on the season and had combined for 33 touchdowns in 12 games, came in with a nine-game winning streak and averaging more than 39 points during the season and 43 points in the playoffs.

Instead, the Tigers were left staring at no points and just 69 yards rushing on just 33 total plays for the game after being manhandled by the Wolves defense. Carver’s only score came on an interception return for a touchdown in the first half.

“The defense played great,” Simpson said. “They got some help from the offense which kept (the Tigers offense) off the field. But when they were out there, they played with a lot of passion and heart. A tremendous effort.”

Bart said they felt they had something to prove.

“In the warm-ups Carver had that look like they knew they were going to win,” he said. “They talked a little before the game but we just told ourselves we would show them who was better on the field. I think they overlooked us and we made them pay.”

Against Cartersville, they may face their toughest challenge yet. The Hurricanes are averaging over 40 points a game and have scored 42 or more six times in 13 games. They are led by quarterback Brooks Barden, who before last week’s 21-13 win over Thomson, had thrown 36 touchdowns with no interceptions on the season.

“He is a much different quarterback than the kid from Carver or Cedar Grove,” Simpson said. “We will have to be disciplined and play our best game of the season.”

Bart agreed with his coach.

“They are explosive and very dangerous,” Bart said. “This will be our toughest test, even more so than Carver. But we’re looking forward to it. The pressure hasn’t gotten to us yet.”

“I think we’re going to show even more people that we’re just as good as those teams that had all those stars,” Brinson said. “We’ve improved a lot over the season and we’re ready. We want to win a state title.”

A couple more efforts like last week’s against Carver, they may get their wish.

BUFORD at CARTERSVILLE
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Weinman Stadium, Cartersville
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- BUFORD (10-3, No. 2 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Carver, Columbus, 31-7 in the quarterfinals.
-- CARTERSVILLE (13-0, No. 1 seed Region 5-AAA): Defeated Thomson 21-13 in the quarterfinals.
-- HISTORY: The two teams have played twice (2006 and ’07 regular season), Buford winning each time, including 40-0 in ’07.
-- WINNER PLAYS: St. Pius X vs. North Hall winner in the Class AAA title game
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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