ATLANTA — The Georgia Dome has staged far more triumph than disappointment for Buford football through the years.
Six of the Wolves' 11 state championships played out on the Atlanta venue's turf. Buford also won six semifinals played at the Dome between 2000-07.
Yet for all that success, Buford's current seniors will never forget one night of frustration.
The Wolves dropped the 2015 Class AAAA championship to Cartersville, 10-0 in the Dome -- and it is a result that Buford means to redeem on Friday, as it takes on Rome for the Class AAAAA title.
(NOTE: You can listen to the entire game live, beginning with the 4:30 p.m. kickoff on WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM.)
"We've worked 365 days to get to this point and put all our blood sweat and tears into getting here," said Wolves senior linebacker/running back TD Roof. "And to go out like this in our senior year and to finish it off right -- that's really just what we're trying to do."
"We've just got a whole bunch of guys that are really hungry," added Buford senior linebacker/tight end Jake Simpson. "We didn't finish last year the way we wanted to. So we just put in the work in this offseason, and coming out this Friday and finishing right is going to make it all worth it."
Sweat and toil have long proven key ingredients to Buford's unprecedented success -- which includes a state record 10 straight state title game appearances. And this year's hard work has once again reaped reward, but it has also come with a price, as the Wolves have battled imposing obstacles along the path to the Dome.
Injuries have taken their toll, with plenty of starters sidelined for lengthy spells -- not that Buford has dwelled on those setbacks.
"Whenever we've had a guy come out or get hurt or nicked up somebody has stepped up every time," Simpson said. "And people are ready because these guys just want to win and come out and do whatever's best."
The Wolves coaching staff wouldn't have it any other way.
"I always tell our kids, nobody cares. At the end of the day we're playing and you're wearing the gold helmet, and there's a standard of performance, and hopefully we can play to that," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "We've had a bunch (of injuries), but that's football and maybe a little more this year than in other years, but certainly that's just part of it. And you've got to play through it. They've done a really good job."
Indeed, the Wolves cruised through much of the regular season, notching the Region 8-AAAAA crown with relative ease. Yet the postseason has thrown up two four-quarter battles, as the Wolves clawed their way past Carrollton 34-27 in the quarterfinals and Kell 28-16 in the semifinals.
And after besting two Region 7-AAAAA teams in back-to-back contests, a third straight 7-AAAAA foe awaits in the Dome, as Buford preps to tackle Rome.
The Wolves from northwest Georgia may not have a cozy familiarity of the Dome -- this is their first ever state championship appearance -- but Buford believes it is in for another fight to the finish this week.
Certainly Buford's offensive and defensive linemen are steeling themselves for a slugfest against a team that follows a similar plan of attack: run the ball with power and stop opponents from running.
"I think it will be won or lost in the trenches. Our offensive line versus their defensive line, our front seven against their offensive line -- which is the strength of their team," Wolves senior lineman Dean Powell said. "I think we can get it done up front. I think it will be a battle though. I think it will be a four-quarter war inside on both sides of the ball for us."
The numbers bear plenty of resemblance. Buford (13-1) enters the contest averaging 285.9 rush yards and 105.1 pass yards per game. Rome (12-2), meanwhile, is putting up 293.7 yards on the ground and 126.8 through the air. Buford's offense is the No. 2 scoring unit in Class AAAAA (41.0 points per game), it's defense No. 4 (14.2 ppg allowed). Rome is No. 1 in both categories (43.8 ppg/11.3 ppg).
"They've got a bunch of athletes, and they've got a bunch of big-looking guys that are just hard-nosed football players," Roof said. "And they kinda do the same thing we do; they run power up your throat and make you like it. So it's almost like looking in a mirror somewhat and just a hard-nosed team and tough game."
Rome features two dangerous tailbacks in Jamious Griffin (1,418 yards rushing, 25 TDs) and Jalynn Sykes (1,092 yards, 16 TDs) and a dual threat quarterback in sophomore Knox Kadum (1,731 yards passing, 16 TDs, 4 INTs; 603 yards rushing 5 TDs).
Buford, meanwhile, counters with a multi-headed monster of a backfield led by Anthony Grant (1,447 yards, 24 TDs), Roof (454 yards, 10 TDs), Derrian Brown (642 yards, 9 TDs) and Christian Turner (1,077 yards, 18 TDs) -- who has bounced back from injury to electrify the Wolves' playoff attack. In three postseason games Turner has rushed for 513 yards and 9 TDs.
"We've had some moments where we've played really well in all three phases of the game. We've had some moments where the defense had to pick up the offense or vice-versa and offense picking up the 'D' or made a mistake here in special teams or there. So we've had to do it a lot of different ways the last month, but that's OK," Simpson said. "I told those guys the other night, the strength of this team is the team. And this has been a fun team to coach."
And it is a team with one big goal left to accomplish.
"This team itself has been through a lot of close games, Roswell, last year in the Dome, last year against McEachern," Powell said. "And we know how it is to play against tough opponents, and we know how to win. So I think we're going to be ready."
BUFORD vs. ROME
- WHAT: Class AAAAA football championship game
- WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Friday
- WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
- RADIO: WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM
- TICKETS: $20 at the gate
- FOR MORE DETAILED GEORGIA DOME INFORMATION, Click here