BUFORD — No matter which classification Buford is playing in, the Wolves are always considered a powerhouse program. The current installment of the Wolves are certainly holding true to form advancing to their 21st consecutive Elite 8 round, which now spans six classifications.
The Wolves (10-1) are one of five region champions still alive in the Class 6A playoffs behind a No. 1-ranked defense and an offense that has been bolstered of late by an efficient two-quarterback system and improved passing game to go with their usual hard-nosed rushing attack.
Last year with a new coach in long-time assistant Bryant Appling, they were coming off two lackluster seasons by their standards. But Appling and the Wolves returned to their old ways, winning the Class 5A state title.
Now, they look to continue their latest playoff run taking on a Hughes team (11-1) that is having its best season ever. And the Panthers are doing it in similar fashion to the Wolves with a run-oriented offense in a two-quarterback system and a solid defensive unit as well.
However, Buford should have the experience factor and the home field advantage. You can hear the game live on WDUN AM 550 (Click to listen live).
AccessWDUN reached out to Appling to get his thoughts on his current team and preparing against a "destiny" type team in the Panthers.
QUESTION: Coach, thanks for taking some time with us. Hughes is having its best-ever season as a program. First time in the Elite 8 while this is the 21st straight year in the quarterfinals for Buford. It seems to be the classic David vs. Goliath type matchup. Do you believe in the “team of destiny” kind of thing or is it always just about executing game plans, not making mistakes, etc?
ANSWER: With all the things that have happened in sports over the years, at all levels, there are instances where teams catch lightning in a bottle and have a great year. We’ve been on both sides of that conversation through the years. But this Hughes team is really talented and they have earned the respect of everyone they have played this year, including us. This is a new year with a new team so we have to go out and prove it again, and we are not looking at them as a ”David” -- they are another great team that is in our way and we have to play a complete game to beat them.
QUESTION: Both teams are in the top 6 in 6A in most offensive and defensive categories. When you have a matchup like this between even teams, at least on paper, are you more concerned with how your offense or defense performs? Or is more about intangibles like experience and home field advantage?
ANSWER: Each game has a life of its own, so it’s hard to zero in on just one of these areas in a big playoff game. Especially in these times, staying home does help mentally and physically, but we go with the same game plan in all of our games. Before you can win you can’t beat yourself. Plays will be made on both sides of the ball. Manage the highs and lows better than your opponent and you should have a chance at the end.
QUESTION: This will be a rare matchup where both teams employ a two-quarterback system. The Panthers two QBs have been hard to stop for most defenses. Air Noland and Xavier Smith both have passed for more than 1,100 yards and Smith is also the team’s leading rusher (796 yards). But both defenses see this every day in practice. Does that help either team be able to put together a game plan to slow down the offenses?
ANSWER: There are definitely some similarities between our quarterbacks and the way we use them. Having a quarterback, let alone two, that can run and throw always adds another dimension for the defense to have to deal with. We are excited for the opportunity to match up with two great players and we will do our best to slow them down.
QUESTION: Related to the previous question, on offense does that mean changing up the game plan some, like throwing in some new wrinkles or trying to avoid certain tendencies?
ANSWER: We will do whatever we feel like gives us the best opportunity to score points and win.
QUESTION: So, with all of that, what do you see as the key(s) to this game?
ANSWER: Keys don’t change much for us: play great on special teams, control the ball on offense, and affect the ball on defense.
QUESTION: Despite stepping up in classification this year, the expectations coming into the season were still high. But is it safe to say that after the opening game loss to North Cobb there was some concern, based on the performance with the amount of mistakes made?
ANSWER: People outside of the program might have been concerned, but we understood the situation we were in. New players, the first time out as a team, some mistakes are expected. But as a program, we know what we had in this team and we knew how to fix the mistakes. We just hope to keep improving this Friday.
QUESTION: So, how far has this team come since the early days of the season, especially after the North Cobb loss? What areas of improvement have impressed you the most about this team?
ANSWER: The way they lead each other, focus on the little things, and how they have improved every week with their intangibles. Those are the most impressive areas with this team.