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Posted: Friday, October 4th 2013 at 7:54pm

West Hall ready to test itself against Buford in 7-AAA showdown (Video)

By Morgan Lee Editor
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Buford's Evyn Cooper, left, and West Hall's Kwon Williams have helped their teams to a combined 8-1 record so far this season. The Wolves and Spartans will face off on Friday in Oakwood. / photos: Brian Oliver, Morgan Lee
OAKWOOD -- Just a year ago, few would have predicted this.

Buford football says it is in for a fight on Friday at West Hall.

“I feel like West Hall is easily the most improved team in our region, the most improved team in AAA, maybe around the state. Look at them a year ago, and they had some great parts and pieces and you look at what coach Lotti’s doing in just year two, and they’re off to a great start,” Wolves coach Jess Simpson said. “We’re going to have a challenge Friday night.”

Perhaps more than anything -- more than a 4-1 record, more than an offense averaging 39 points per game -- that speaks volumes for the improvements the Spartans have made in year two under coach Tony Lotti.

(NOTE: To watch a video preview of tonight’s game with members of both programs, simply click “play” in the box to the right.)

West Hall went 3-7 in 2012, one of those games being a forfeit win over Buford -- which was a 61-0 final on the field (the Wolves self-reported that they had briefly fielded an ineligible player late in the contest). And though it was 12 months ago, it seems like light years for the Spartans.

“It’s amazing. I came here last year and the difference in the team is huge,” West Hall linebacker Chase Seymour said. “Everyone’s happy to be at practice; it’s a great feeling.”

It’s amazing what a few victories will do. But it’s not just the wins -- it's the way the Spartans are attaining them that has Buford’s attention.

“They’re talented in every position. They’re big up front and they can move,” Simpson said. “The skill guys are big and can run, and they’ve got a couple of home run hitters. I think they have 18 starters back, and a senior quarterback. It’s a good group.”

Those home run hitters have torn up four opposing defenses so far this season, especially sophomore Kwon Williams, who has rushed 25 times for 469 yards -- an astounding 18.76 yards per carry -- and eight touchdowns. He is joined by Tyquan Statham (210 yards, 3 TDs) and Antonio Pittman (200 yards, 4 TDs). Meanwhile, senior quarterback Zach English has completed 65 percent of his passes for 465 yards and 8 TDs with no interceptions. Tight end Hunter Atkinson has been his biggest target – literally – as the 6-foot-5 senior has caught 21 passes for 267 yards and 6 scores.

That said, the Spartans (4-1, 2-0 Region 7-AAA) know that Friday’s task will be something entirely different from anything they’ve faced so far in 2013.

“It’s huge, everybody knows they’re No. 1 in state,” West Hall senior lineman Mason Gaine said. “It’s big for us to see how we compete against them. No matter what the outcome is, we’re going to give it our all.”

The Spartans face a deep and athletic Wolves defense allowing just 5.3 points and 134.5 yards per game and has limited opposing offenses to just four third down conversions in 44 attempts. In fact, Simpson believes third down has been the biggest snap of the game for Buford (4-0, 1-0) so far this campaign.

“What we’ve done best is third downs,” Simpson said. “Whether it’s staying on the field on offense or getting off the field on defense, that’s been critical for us.”

The Spartans have converted 20 of 46 third downs so far -- compared with Buford’s offense conversion rate of 15 of 27.

“Offensively we feel like we’ve played pretty good so far, but we have to clean up some things here and there,” said Buford quarterback Taylor Mitchell, who has helped the Wolves to roll up over 426 yards and 52 points per game so far this season. “We’ve been practicing hard, trying to refine everything, so we keep going in the right direction.”

It is that attention to detail and refusal to rest on past success that helps keep Buford on top, and it has come fairly easy for a veteran squad in 2013.

“I’ve been encouraged by how our team has prepared and worked really hard in preparation,” Simpson said. “You never know how teenage young men are going to react but I’ve been encouraged by their maturity and work in practice.”

It is an atmosphere that Lotti and his staff are also instilling in Oakwood.

“Our motto since we’ve been here is play the next play, so we want to concentrate on that one play -- make sure we’re in position, doing the assignment,” Lotti said. “We’re just looking at that one play and putting all of our energy there. It’s going to be very important for us on Friday; we have to take it one bite at a time so to speak.”

That focus also includes holding on to the ball come Friday.

“That’s going to be a key for us,” Lotti said. “With teams like Buford, we can’t set them up with short fields and easy scoring opportunities. Championship teams take advantage of that. We’ve got to try to see if we can control some field position.”

West Hall also knows it cannot afford to be intimidated by the defending Class AAA champs -- a program that has also won eight state titles in 12 seasons.

“We’ve got to come out excited and ready to make some plays and hit them hard,” Seymour said.

In the atmosphere created by the match-up, there should be plenty of players ready for Friday’s showdown.

“It’s exciting for couple of reasons: it’s a region game, and you’re playing a quality opponent, and you’re going into their place, so you know they’ll be jacked up and excited,” Simpson said. “Friday night will be a great atmosphere. I think our kids will be ready to play.”

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Spartan Stadium, Oakwood
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- BUFORD (4-0, 1-0 Region 7-AAA): Defeated Banks County 63-0 last week. The Wolves are ranked No. 1 in Class AAA.
-- WEST HALL (4-1, 2-0 Region 7-AAA): Defeated Fannin County 49-7 last week.
-- HISTORY: Buford won the last meeting 61-0 in 2012 -- though the game was later forfeited when it was discovered the Wolves had briefly fielded an ineligible player late in the contest. It is the only previous meeting between the two squads.
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