BUFORD — No. 1 Buford proved its dominance of Class AA, beating No. 2 Carver-Columbus 35-7 on Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium.
The Wolves (3-0) avenged its only loss from last season to Carver (1-1) by turning a close game at the half into a rout with a strong third quarter.
"We talked about that at the half," Buford Coach Jess Simpson said. "We wanted to win the first five minutes of the third quarter, flip the field and then go in and score to stretch our lead out. And our kids stayed on script pretty well to that.
"These kids had a taste in their mouth from last year that they certainly wanted to get out."
Andre' Johnson and Nathan Staub led the charge in the third quarter, accounting for all three touchdowns that Buford scored in the second half. On the Wolves' first possession of the third quarter, Johnson had five carries setting up his backfield mate, Staub on a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:42 left in the quarter.
A botched snap on the ensuing Carver possession led to Johnson's second score of the night from 3 yards with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
Johnson put the game out of reach for Buford when he added his third touchdown run, scoring from 4 yards out with 8:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, making it 35-0. His score was set up by a 42-yard punt return by Ryan Dillard.
The Buford defense smothered the Tiger offense for most of the game. However, early in the fourth quarter, running back Marquez Holloway found an opening running lane and went 87 yards to end the Buford shutout streak at 11 quarters on the season.
It was only one of two opportunities that Carver truly threatened to score. In the first half, Holloway had found an open lane but was eventually caught from behind at the Buford 5-yard line by defensive back Jaylen Mize. However, a holding penalty on the play negated Holloway's 85-yard jaunt and eventually resulted in a Carver punt.
Buford's defense and special teams set the tone early the in the game stuffing the Carver running game and passing game with short gains. The turning point in the first half came after the Tigers were forced to punt on their opening possession. Several Buford defenders broke through and Dillon Lee got his hand on the football to block the punt.
The play set up the Wolves offense in excellent field position at the Carver 21-yard line with 3:07 left in the first quarter. Five plays later, Johnson bowled his way into the end zone from 4 yards out to put Buford up 7-0 with only 0:37 remaining in the first quarter.
The game remained that way until late in the second quarter when Staub took matters into his own hands with a spectacular 46-yard touchdown run. He took the handoff from his fullback position, found some running room to his left and jumped over a Tiger defender that had fallen. He then sprinted the rest of the way to put the Wolves up 14-0 with 4:26 left before halftime.
Staub maximized his touches on offense as he only had two carries on the night, both for touchdowns.
"It was an overall great team effort," Staub said. "They're a great team over there and it was great to play this game and get the win."
Johnson led the way for the offense, totaling 73 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns on the night. Staub contributed with 47 yards and two touchdowns on the night. Quarterback Sam Clay was a very efficient 7-for-9 passing for 55 yards. Paris Head added 19 yards receiving on 3 catches and Kurt Freitag had 18 yards on two catches.
Buford had a balanced effort with eight players rushing attempts and four players gaining receptions. The offense totaled 253 total yards against a good Carver defense.
Defensive back Mize contributed to the defensive effort with a leaping first quarter interception. Staub, Rick Legrant, Dillon Lee and the rest of the Buford defense held the Tigers' offense to 34 total yards in the first half.
"Those guys played their tails off," Simpson said. "To keep a team like Carver scoreless for a half until we subbed late in the game, they're the kind of team that you hold your breath every time they run the ball because they're so explosive that they can pop one on anybody."
Next week, Buford takes on Yulee, Fla., in another high-profile matchup at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Buford. The game will be televised on ESPNU.