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Wolves 38, Red Elephants 14
Difference maker: Buford’s defense held Gainesville’s high-power offense to just 332 yards.
Stat that matters: The Wolves averaged almost 10 yards per rushing attempt.
Turning point: Buford’s Joshua Thomas answered a Gainesville score with a 77-yard touchdown and kept its lead at 17 midway through the second quarter.
Who’s next: Buford hosts Hancock Central on Friday at Tom Riden Stadium; Gainesville opens Region 8-AAAAA by hosting Winder-Barrow on Friday at City Park Stadium.
Buford took 364 days to stew over a loss last season against Gainesville. The Wolves used Friday night’s game in Gainesville to retaliate.
Led by a running game that compiled 355 yards between nine ball carriers, Class AAA’s top-ranked Wolves (2-0) jumped up early, kept pressure on Gainesville senior quarterback Deshaun Watson all night and rolled to a 38-14 win at City Park Stadium.
This game was compelling since it matched two defending state champions from different classifications against one another.
Rushing touchdowns from four different Wolves running backs made it mostly a one-sided outing against the high-power offense of the defending Class AAAAA state champion Red Elephants (1-1).
“Our kids just played their tails off tonight,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “Games likes this one don’t matter for region and state title implications, but they sure are important for our football family.”
Leading by 10 midway through the second quarter, Buford running back Joshua Thomas (13 carries, 133 yards) helped put it firmly in control with a 77-yard touchdown scamper right after the Red Elephants scored their first touchdown of the night. Thomas Wilson had a pair of short touchdown runs for Buford in the second half.
“I feel like our offensive line was the bright spot for us tonight,” Simpson added. “We build off what we did last week last week and it was the difference for us here against Gainesville.”
The Wolves’ defense was relentless all night keeping pressure on Watson, who passed threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jay Gaudlock midway through the second quarter and finished the game with 176 passing yards.
Gainesville was also hurt offensively by nine dropped passes that hit receivers in the hands. The Red Elephants had trouble against the fierce Buford defense, rushing for only 89 yards and totaled 332 yards of offense — almost 300 less than in their season-opening win against West Forsyth.
“Nothing went right for us tonight and the way Buford played had a lot to do with it,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said.
"For us, the ones that count for region and getting into the playoffs start next Friday and if we don’t win those the guys will be able to turn their equipment in November.”
Gainesville’s best success on offense was with passes out of the backfield, led by junior running back Chris Byrd with nine catches for 50 yards. However, Buford’s pursuit to the football and tackling kept Watson and his big arm from turning in many big plays.
“We knew coming into the game that Deshaun was the No. 11 player in the country, but we knew that if we got 11 players to the ball nothing was going to stop anyone that has Buford across their chest,” Thomas said.
Cameron Poole started the scoring for Buford, who scored on its first four offensive possessions, with an 11-yard touchdown catch thrown by senior quarterback Montgomery Van Gorder early in the first period. On its next drive, the Wolves added to its lead with a 48-yard field goal by Matt Bonadies.
Trailing 17-0 in the second quarter, Gainesville had its best offensive drive of the night. Watson connected on three straight passes, including a game-long 28-yard throw to Gaudlock. On the touchdown play at the end of the drive, Watson hit Gaudlock in the flat and he ran to the corner and stretched out to hit the goal line for the score.
Only three plays after Gainesville’s score, Thomas answered for Buford on a third-and-2 with a toss sweep play and outran the Gainesville defense down the sideline for the 77-yard score.
Prior to Gainesville’s touchdown, Zavior Hoxie ran it in for Buford from the 2 to take a 17-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Red Elephants scored their second touchdown when junior quarterback Mikey Gonzalez connected with Josh Holderfield on a 26-yard touchdown pass and just 1:26 left to play.
Friday, Gainesville hosts Winder-Barrow to open play in Region 8-AAAAA; Buford hosts Hancock Central in a nonregion contest at Tom Riden Stadium.