Thursday September 21st, 2017 10:43PM

Wolves, Trojans battle for 7-AAA title, ready for playoffs

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- RADIO: AM 550
-- BUFORD (9-0, 6-0 Region 7-AAA): Defeated East Hall 70-6 last week. The Wolves are ranked No. 1 in Class AAA.
-- NORTH HALL (8-1, 5-1 Region 7-AAA): Defeated Banks County 63-7 last week. The Trojans are ranked No. 6 in Class AAA.
-- WHAT'S AT STAKE: The Region 7-AAA championship. Buford can claim it with a win, while North Hall needs to beat the Wolves by 12 or more points to secure the crown.
-- HISTORY: Buford won the last meeting 45-16 in 2012. The Wolves lead the series 7-1-1.
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GAINESVILLE -- According to Buford football coach Jess Simpson, it's not time yet for any legacy building.

Fans and local sports writers (including your's truly) have been wondering for weeks if this is perhaps the best Buford team ever after watching the Class AAA No. 1-ranked Wolves (9-0, 6-0 Region 7-AAA) steamroll through the first nine games of the regular season by a ridiculous 46.7 average margin of victory.

Simpson wasn't having any of it, however, as his team prepares to take on No. 7 North Hall (8-1, 5-1) Friday at The Brickyard. The game has Region 7-AAA title implications for both teams. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on WDUN 550 AM.

"Really, your legacy is built in November and the playoffs," he said. "I hear what people say. Statistically, it's probably one of our better teams. But what the perception of this team is will start when we begin the playoffs.

"Every team is different and has to earn what they get and their reputation. This year's team hasn't won anything yet. We might not win anything. Any talk of legacy or being the best is very premature."

North Hall coach Bob Christmas is hoping his team can prove its own mettle by knocking off the heavily-favored Wolves. While he admits it will be the biggest challenge of the season for his group, everyone is beatable.

"Absolutely (everyone is beatable)," he said. "But some are tougher to beat than others, and certainly Buford is as tough as they come. They are loaded with Division-I players, they have tremendous tradition, and have great coaching top to bottom.

"But if we come out and play our game and do what we do and do it well, we certainly have a chance to win. We don't ever go into a game thinking we can't win. Our guys are looking forward to the challenge."

One advantage for the Trojans certainly will be playing at home in The Brickyard, one of the toughest places to win for opposing teams anywhere. They are 11-1 at home over the past two seasons, with the lone loss coming to eventual Class AA state champion Jefferson last year in the final seconds. They are 39-10 over the past nine seasons at home.

"Our guys have always loved playing at The Brickyard," Christmas said. "It is one of the best atmospheres in the state and I hope it has become a tough place for the other team to win. Will that give us an advantage? I hope so. We'll see (Friday)."

Simpson parroted Christmas on having to travel to the rolling hills of northern Hall County.

"We've been up there before (2009, a 35-7 Buford win) and it is a great atmosphere. The fans were into it and I remember it as a much tougher game than the score," Simpson said. "This is the kind of game you want to end a season. It's almost like the first round of the state playoffs."

It certainly will have a bearing on who finishes where in 7-AAA. A Buford win seals the region title for the Wolves. A North Hall win, however, comes with a caveat. The Trojans will need to beat Buford by 12 or more points to take the title. A win by less than 12 points would put North Hall in the No. 3 seed.

And therein lies the rub for the Trojans. Buford has not lost since falling 19-14 to eventual Class AAAAA state champion Gainesville last season and no team has beaten the Wolves by more than 12 points since Carver-Columbus in 2010 (14-0).

"That's tough to know that we could win this game and get little to show for it," Christmas said. "But we're going to go out there and give it all we have."

The outcome could come down to the play of North Hall's Andrew Smith, who plays quarterback on offense and "anywhere we need him" on defense, Christmas said, and the two-headed quarterback monster of Montgomery VanGorder and Taylor Mitchell for Buford.

"Normally, two quarterbacks is tough to find consistency but really it has worked great for us for two years," Simpson said. "I kind of wondered (coming into this year) if one of them was really going to step forward and move ahead of the other but they are both outstanding. The kids have confidence in both of them and so do the coaches. We wouldn't change a thing."

As for Smith, he figures to be busy for the Trojans on both sides of the ball. Simpson said they are well aware of how he can change a game.

"Smith is one of the most dynamic players in north Georgia," Simpson said. "He does so many things for them. He's the straw that stirs the drink for them. We just want to try to slow him down a little, especially on offense."

"Andrew is a difference maker for us," Christmas said. "He's got a tremendous amount of heart and ability. Obviously we need him to play well for us to have a chance. But he has shown he's up for the challenge in the big games and I expect him to do what he does and do it well."

Despite both teams putting up huge offensive numbers -- Buford is averaging 52 points a game and North Hall 45 points a game -- Christmas is almost hoping for more of a defensive struggle. The Wolves have allowed just 51 points all season and the Trojans have allowed 16 points a game. Be careful what you wish for?

"We want to run the ball and keep them off the field but keeping the score low would work better for us - I think," he said. "Both teams are explosive but both teams play tough defense. It's hard to say which way it will go. Everytime I try to predict something like that the other happens."

But no matter what happens Friday night, both coaches realize they will be able to fight another day in the playoffs.

"The good news for both teams is that we will have at least one more week to play," Simpson said. "But you want to go into the playoffs on a high note so getting a win is important."

Christmas felt this was a perfect way to the regular season.

"As a coach you want to try and simulate playoff atmosphere and we're going to get that in the last game of the season," Christmas said. "I would much rather finish a season with a game like this than against a team that is struggling at the end. No matter what happens, we'll be playing next week and the kids will know what level they need to play at."
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