BUFORD — Buford will be moving up to Class 7A next year. However, the Wolves still have unfinished business in Class 6A.
On Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium, they take on Carrollton in the Class 6A semifinals with a chance to move into their third consecutive state championship game, and second straight in Class 6A.
They knocked off the Trojans two years ago, 24-21, in the Class 5A quarterfinals in Carrollton on the way to their first state title under coach Bryant Appling, and first since 2014.
You know the Trojans (12-1) will be looking for a measure of revenge. They also have one of the more dynamic playmakers in Georgia in senior quarterback MJ Morris.
But the Wolves (12-1) counter with one of their nastier defensive units in history, which is yielding just 7.0 points/game.
Buford is coming off an impressive 27-0 win over Lee County last week in the quarterfinals in a battle of the top two ranked teams and a rematch of the 2020 Class 6A state final.
AccessWDUN caught up with Appling this week to discuss the Wolves’ defense, Morris, and if they can run their win streak against Class 6A teams to 21-straight.
You can hear the game live on WDUN AM 550 beginning with the pregame show at 7 p.m. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
QUESTION: Thanks for taking some time, Coach. We know it takes a lot of hard work to get to this point but y’all are making it look easy. How well is your group playing right now?
ANSWER: These guys have grown a lot over this season. Coming out of last year and Covid-19 and all that, we knew we had a good bunch but we also knew we had to replace some guys in some key spots. They’ve developed in ways that we thought they could but didn’t know how long it would take. They’re jelling as a group and the seniors are doing a great job leading. They're playing at a high level of football right now. It’s never perfect but we're proud of where they are. But I also don't think we’ve played our best ball yet. Well see tonight.
QUESTION: It’s a powerhouse semifinals left with three 12-win teams and a surging Dacula squad (9-4) that has won 8 of its last 9 games. However, y’all have won 20 straight games against Class 6A opponents? What has been the key ingredient to your success since moving into Class 6A?
ANSWER: Just keeping our main focus, you know, the main thing all the time. Not getting outside of ourselves, understanding that the way we’ve played football at Buford for a long time has worked. We just try to play full speed and physical all the way. Be sound on both sides of the ball and prepare for our opponent every week. I believe this year, probably more than any other year, every team is equal. On any given Friday night any team can win. So really just keeping the main focus on who we are playing that week is a big factor for our success.
QUESTION: The defense is playing at such a high level. It may be one of the better overall defenses in program history. What has been their driving force this season? Who are some of the main guys that are making it happen on that side of the ball?
ANSWER: Experience level has a lot to do with it. A lot of these guys played a bunch of snaps for us the last couple years. A bunch of guys started as sophomores and got that experience level in our packages, in our defensive schemes, and that helps out a lot. We don't cover something Monday through Thursday that doesn’t come up on a Friday. We’ve typically seen it in the last two or three years where they can draw on that and they say ‘hey, this is how we need to fix it’ when they get to the sideline.
Guys like Sho Mitchell and Eddrick Houston have anchored us up front and linebackers DJ Payne, Malik Spencer and Aubrey Smith are playing really, really well inside the box, and we got Eli Parks and Dawson Andrew and others playing behind them. We have a lot of senior leadership in the back with Jake Pope, Isaiah Bond and Ryland Gandy, and a couple of sophomores in Ty White and KJ Bolden. Just a lot of guys that have played in some big-time games.
QUESTION: The last Buford senior class to win three consecutive state titles was in 2003. In this drive for a third straight title for this senior class with guys like Jake Pope, Victor Venn, Isaiah Bond, Ashton Daniels, how much talk have you heard about the significance of this?
ANSWER: Actually, none at all. Our focus right now is going in as one note, one mindset. If we can play well tonight maybe we’ll have a chance to talk about that. But I haven’t heard a whisper about any of that from a kid, a coach, or anyone from the community. We just want to focus on the next thing, and the next thing is being able to handle everything up to game time and what happens during the game tonight.
QUESTION: Buford has played Carrollton just twice in its history but both were in the playoffs and both were tight games. The Trojans have scored the most points in the playoffs (127, 41.9 ppg) behind QB MJ Morris, and y’all have allowed the fewest (21, 7.0 ppg) of the playoff teams left in Class 6A. What will be the key to slowing down Morris and that offense?
ANSWER: Just playing fast like we have all year. They put the ball on the perimeter with quick passes and screens and things like. They also do a great job of opening up lanes for him and the running backs. Morris does a good job of spreading it out between all of their playmakers but he's definitely the catalyst of that offense with his arm and with his legs. We’ve played some athletic quarterbacks this year but none as athletic as he is. It’s going to come down to those 1-on-1 battles, coming off blocks, and being able to get him down in space. That is going to be the key.
QUESTION: Or, is the key to the game your offense, which is averaging 36.3 ppg, against their defense (81, 27.0 ppg) which has given up the most points of the four semifinalists? Two years ago they held y’all to 24 points, a season-low at that point in the season. What is the key to attacking that defense this time around?
ANSWER: Two years ago was two years ago. All the situations that people want to bring back up about past situations, you know, I mean it’s all well and good. But this is a different year with different kids. Just playing that brand of football we always do. Being physical and setting the tone with runs and then picking our spots when we want to put the ball in the air. That will be the key.