By Gene Phelps
JACKSON – D.K. Buford, who played on back-to-back undefeated state championship Lafayette football teams as a freshman and sophomore, figured he would play his final game every year in Jackson.
“Last year we thought we’d have an easy ride, then we got put out in the second round by Noxubee County,” said Buford, the Commodores’ star running back/athlete. “It makes you appreciate it more.”
Lafayette (10-5) returns to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium today to play Forrest County AHS (12-2) for the MHSAA Class 4A state championship. The kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.
There was a time this season when Buford thought his final title game appearance might have come in 2011. The Commodores opened 2013 with a 3-5 record before winning seven consecutive games.
“The coaches told us every single Monday to believe in what we’re capable of doing,” said Buford, a 1,000-yard rusher this season.
“We were not used to losing and having a 3-5 record,” added outside linebacker Eric Lewis at Monday’s MHSAA Gridiron Classic press conference in Jackson. “Our goal was to be here in December.”
Lafayette second-year coach Eric Robertson remembers the pain of losing in the playoffs last season.
“It hurt; we were used to being here,” he said.
‘Heart to heart’
Despite his team’s stumble out of the starting gate, Robertson always believed they could contend for a North state championship and return to title game.
“We knew we had a good football team that hadn’t played well,” he said. “We were 3-3 in non-region games and had played good teams (Tupelo, Oxford and Memphis University School). All three of those are in state championship games.”
Then he watched the ’Dores lose back-to-back Division 2 games to Ripley and Rosa Fort.
“We sat down and had a heart to heart after the Rosa Fort loss,” Robertson said.
The Commodores responded with wins against division foes New Albany, Senatobia and Byhalia. The win against New Albany was especially sweet. The Bulldogs beat the ’Dores in 2012 and won the division.
“That was a revenge game for us,” Lewis said. “That win got us back on track.”