BUFORD — New Buford coach Bryant Appling was supposed to open his coaching career with a almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity two weeks ago.
The Wolves were scheduled to take on defending Class 7A state champion Milton in the Corky Kell Classic at Coolray Stadium in a matchup of two of the state's premier programs.
But alas, rain washed out the season-opener for both teams. Appling was looking at the gigantic test as a measure to see where the Wolves sat as he tried to reestablish them as a state title contender. He said transitioning from a 15-year assistant and changing the culture were the top priorities at the time.
“Honestly, I learned so much from Coach (Dexter) Wood and Coach (Jess) Simpson that it hasn’t been that hard of a transition,” Appling said that week as they prepared for the Eagles. “I watched how they did things. They were, and still are, good mentors. They taught me a lot.
“There are a lot more administrative things to deal with but it hasn’t been as stressful as I thought it might be. I have great coaches here that have helped make this a smooth transition overall.”
He and the Wolves finally got the 2019 season under way last week with a 41-0 demolition of Jonesboro at Tom Riden Stadium.
It may be two weeks late but the two teams now will meet Friday at Milton High School. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m.
Typically Buford is considered the favorite in its cross-classification tilts, no matter the opponent. But this is the first time the Wolves have played the defending state champion of the state’s largest classification.
And for Appling and the Wolves, they are more than thrilled to get the opportunity. For more than a decade the state’s largest programs avoided the Wolves like the plague. Not anymore. And Buford has prospered going 6-3 against higher classification teams since 2014.
“(Playing the larger schools) means a lot to us,” Appling said. “When we were in the smaller classifications and we had some of our best teams we couldn’t get the bigger schools to play us. It was a no-win for them and we understood that.
“But now that we’ve moved up (the larger schools) have added us to their schedules, especially the Gwinnett (County) teams, which I think is great for the area. We look at these games as an opportunity to get better and see where we stand and what we need to do to get better.”
Milton should offer the Wolves more than a challenge for sure. The Eagles hammered Alpharetta 45-0 last week in their opener. And they did that despite losing several key cogs from last year’s title team, including quarterback and Georgia Tech-signee Jordan Yates (3,500 total yards) and running back and Louisiana Tech-signee Joshua Edwards (1,100 yards). They also graduated their top three receivers that combined for over 1,700 yards and 18 touchdown catches in 2018.
Milton pounded out 402 yards rushing against Alpharetta while holding the Raiders to minus-7 yards on the ground. The Eagles’ Ahmad Junearick will be a tough matchup for the Wolves after gaining 201 yards on 24 carries.
“They are still well-coached and have athletes all over the field," Appling said. "In my opinion, they are still one of the top three or four teams in (Class) 7A. I believe they are being underrated already. This will be a huge challenge for us.”
The Wolves also lost several key members from last year’s Class 5A quarterfinals team. However, running back Gabe Ervin rushed for 102 yards, and new quarterback Jarvis Evans was 8-of-11 passing for 113 yards and 3 TDs against Jonesboro.
Quarterback was a big question mark coming into the season, where Evans beat out five other guys to take over for Aaron McLaughlin, who is now at Denmark.
Appling and his staff spent much of the off-season trying to reinstall the “Buford Way” of doing things. He has been more than pleased with the makeover to this point.
“This group already resembles some of the older Buford teams that had a lot of success,” he said. “They’re humble. They work hard. They have really come along.”
The showdown could be one of the premier matchups in the state on Friday and early projections have the Eagles anywhere from a 2-point to a 10-point favorite. None of that seems to phase Appling or the Wolves.
“We go into every game thinking we have a chance to win,” he said. “This one is no different. We know it’s going to be a challenge and I don’t know if anyone is giving us a chance. We really don’t look at that stuff.
“What we’ll be looking for is execution at a high level from our guys because to beat that group we’re going to have to do that on every play. Can we do that? Absolutely.
“We love having this early season test. We want our guys to be exposed to playoff-like atmospheres. This one should have it. I really think this could be one of the best games in the state. Hopefully, we can find a way to win it.”
(This story originally ran on Aug. 22. It has been changed to reflect current records for both teams.)
BUFORD at MILTON
-- WHEN: 8 p.m.
-- WHERE: Eagles Nest, Alpharetta
-- RADIO: WDUN AM 550
-- BUFORD (1-0, 0-0 Region 8-5A): Ranked No. 4 in Class 5A; defeated Jonesboro 41-0 last week.
-- MILTON (1-0, 0-0 Region 5-7A): Ranked No. 6 in Class 7A; defending Class 7A state champions; defeated Alpharetta 45-0 last week
-- NOTABLE: Milton leads series 4-0. First meeting between the two schools since 1983. ... The Eagles are just one of four teams the Wolves have never beaten in a series with four or more meetings (Buchanan, Coosa, West Point). ... Buford is 6-3 against higher classification teams since 2014. ... The Wolves are now 23-2 in season openers since the Dexter Wood-era began in 1995 after last week’s victory. ... This was supposed one of the marquee matchups of the Corky Kell Classic two weeks ago and was scheduled to be played at Coolray Field. But it was postponed due to rain and moved to this week. This also be Buford’s first true road game since taking on Loganville in October of last season. ... Last week also marked the 21st straight season that Buford has posted at least one shutout in a season. ...