Tuesday May 31st, 2016 4:07AM

Buford hungry for more postseason success against familiar foe (Video)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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BUFORD -- For most programs around the state, Friday's games are the gravy that tops the Thanksgiving turkey.

Not Buford.

For the Wolves, everything that happens from this point forward is the main course itself.

What do you expect when you've attained to 14 straight state quarterfinal berths?

"It speaks to consistency and having a program, not just one good year," said Wolves coach Jess Simpson, who has steered to nine of those appearances. "We tell our kids all the time, a team's legacy at Buford is built on November and December. You kind of hate to say that, but what you're remembered for is how you play in these biggest games and how you play when it gets cold.

"This team is defining its legacy right now."

(To watch a video preview of Friday's quarterfinal showdown between Buford and Carver, simply click "play" in the box to the right.)

The Wolves will look to do so against a familiar foe and one also well familiar with deep playoff runs, as they play host to Carver, Columbus at 7:30 p.m. in a Class AAA showdown.

It will be the second straight playoff match-up for Buford and Carver -- a program that will be making its eight straight state quarterfinal appearance -- and, based on those meetings, the Wolves are expecting a battle this time around.

"This one is going to be hard," said Simpson, whose team has won its first two playoff games by a combined 98-7 scoreline. "Look at the last two times we played down in Columbus -- we were down at the half. Carver is never easy to move the ball on, and this year will be no different."

Indeed, Friday's game could well be a defensive slugfest, as Carver brings a a large and talented squad to bear against a Buford defense that is currently one of the best in program history -- which is saying something.

Currently allowing 134.9 yards per game, 1.9 rush yards per attempt and a measly 6 points per game, the Wolves are just behind their program-best performance of 2007, when they allowed just 4.4 points per game en route to a Class AA title.

The Tigers' defense is no slouch either, however, as it showed last week, allowing just 95 total yards in a second round shutout of Jefferson County. Defensive end Mekhi Brown (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) is an explosive player currently committed to Alabama, while Carver also features a deep and talented secondary that includes Kiante Walton. And, according to Georgia High School Football Daily, the Tigers 16.3 points per game allowed ranks sixth-best among the remaining Class AAA teams.

It is an impressive performance for Carver, which is under new head coach Joe Kegler, the Tigers' former offensive coordinator, that took over for retired legend Dell McGee.

"Coach Kegler's done a great job. I think he's done a good job carrying on what coach McGee started," Simpson said. "Their offense looks the same, but where you've got to tip your hat to coach is that their defense has really stepped it up. They look like the same Carver defense. Just getting a yard is a battle. They're big, physical, athletic, well-coached... It's going to be a tremendous challenge."

The Wolves have not had much trouble with opposing defenses so far in 2013, averaging 395 total yards per game, including 269.8 rushing, and a dominating 50.8 points per game.

Senior Thomas Wilson -- who recorded 105 yards and a touchdown in last week's 40-7 blowout of Woodward Academy -- leads the Wolves ground game with 632 yards and a team-high 15 TDs. Joshua Thomas also has 669 yards and 11 TDs, while nine backs have totaled at least 100 yards rushing this season, and 14 different players have tallied a rushing score.

Wilson says the trick for Friday and, hopefully beyond, is to stay focused.

"I think we've played pretty well so far, but we want to continue to do that," said Wilson, who added there will be few surprises for either squad this weekend. "(Carver is) going to come out fast like always, with a lot of energy. We know what we're going to get from them; they know what they're going to get from us. So it just comes down to who can play the best fundamental football."

That certainly includes strong play from the line of scrimmage, a Buford trademark for some time, and Wolves senior offensive lineman Connor Gildemeyer says he and his teammates are looking forward to the challenge against Carver.

"We're used to this. It feels great to have the opportunity to be out here and practice with my teammates for another big game," Gildemeyer said. "We've been working hard and we just want to finish it."

Carver's offense also relies on a strong performance in the trenches to clear the way for
senior fullback Noah Hickey (5-9, 200), though sophomore quarterback Jawon Pass (6-4, 190) is a dual-threat playmaker with several Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers already, including Clemson.

It's the type of contest Buford longs for.

"It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of competition," Wilson said. "There's not a lot of teams doing this right now, so you have to enjoy it and not take it for granted."

That's saying something for a program that has come to regard playoff football as a regularity associated with Thanksgiving and beyond.

-- WHAT: Class AAA football quarterfinal
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
-- RADIO: AM 550
-- CARVER (11-1, No. 1 seed Region 2-AAA): Defeated Jefferson County 19-0 in the second round.
-- BUFORD (12-0, No. 1 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Woodward Academy 40-7 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: Buford leads the short but intense series 3-1, including two straight playoff victories -- 31-7 in the 2012 Class AAA quarterfinals and 28-13 in the Class AA semifinals.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Callaway vs. St. Pius winner in the semifinals
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