Wolves 27, Indians 20
Difference maker: Safety David Curry’s punt return set up the winning touchdown, and he also batted down a pass intended for T.J. Rahmin in the end zone with two seconds left. Rahming already had two touchdowns for McEachern.
Stat that matters: 35 penalty yards, 4 rushing yards in first half. Following its early touchdown off an interception, McEachern struggled mightily against Buford’s defense. The Indians piled up 35 penalty yards in the first two quarters, more than eight times as much as their four rushing yards before the half.
Turning point: Curry’s 34-yard punt return put Buford just 12 yards from pay dirt in the game’s closing minutes. It allowed Joshua Thomas to score two plays later on what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Who’s next: Buford (3-0) takes a week off before hosting White County in its Region 8-AAAA opener on Sept. 19. McEachern (0-2) hosts Peachtree Ridge next Friday.
BUFORD — The Buford Wolves fell behind three times Friday night, but they didn’t blink.
Buford landed the final blow for a 27-20 victory against Class AAAAAA opponent McEachern in a game that resembled a prize fight at Tom Riden Stadium.
Joshua Thomas had two touchdown runs, including the deciding score on a 5-yarder with 2:15 remaining, and Isaac Nauta added a 20-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
“Our kids (have) got guts,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “They believe, and they weren’t going away.”
Wolves safety David Curry didn’t score, but he had two of the night’s bigger plays. Curry’s 34-yard punt return put Buford 12 yards from the end zone to set up the winning score. Then, he batted down a fourth-down pass by McEachern with two seconds remaining.
Thomas praised Curry’s plays down the stretch.
“He’s a leader for this team,” Thomas said. “And we’re following.”
Buford also recovered from losing starting quarterback Luke Humphrey to injury early in the third quarter. Backup Mic Roof directed the Wolves the rest of the way and connected with Caleb Auer for a 2-point conversion after Thomas’ final touchdown.
“Just a whole lot of poise,” Simpson said of Roof. “He’s a coach’s kid.”
Simpson wasn’t immediately aware of Humphrey’s status going forward.
McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said Friday’s atmosphere was special.
“I told them before the game, ‘This is a heavyweight bout, and we’re going to get knocked down. And we’ve got to get back up,’” Hockman said. “‘And we’ve got to knock them down, and they’re going to get back up. Great teams don’t lay there.’ Unfortunately, we ran out of time.”
Buford (3-0) fell behind 6-0 on a pick-six returned 72 yards by Andrew Heyward just 114 seconds into the contest.
A safety on a punt that went off a McEachern player and out of the back of the end zone and Nauta’s touchdown gave the Wolves their first lead at 9-6 late in the first quarter.
Matthew Bonadies had a 24-yard second-quarter field goal for Buford as it took a 12-6 advantage to the halftime break.
McEachern drove to the Wolves’ 33 before stalling on the first drive of the third quarter. On the third play of Buford’s ensuing drive, the Indians’ Bryan Okeh pulled down the visitors’ third interception of the night.
One play later, Bailey Hockman hit T.J. Rahming for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 8:52 left in the third quarter.
Buford responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 10-yard Thomas touchdown run, after Humphrey exited after the drive’s first play with his injury. After a penalty on a 2-point conversion attempt, the Wolves settled for an extra point and a 19-13 edge with 5:43 remaining in the third.
Rahming pulled in another touchdown, a 20-yarder from Bailey Hockman, that along with the extra point put McEachern back in front by a 20-19 score with 8:45 left in the contest.
Even though its next drive didn’t produce a score, Buford used a punt to pin McEachern at its own 9-yard line.
Following an Indian three-and-out, Curry’s punt return set the stage for Thomas’ game-winning touchdown.
McEachern wasn’t done, though, using a 36-yard Tyler Smith kickoff return to start its final drive at the Buford 37.
On the ninth play of that drive, a fourth-and-four at the Wolves’ 6, Curry batted down a pass intended for Rahming in the end zone.
“This was a great high school game,” Kyle Hockman said. “You live for these kind of things.”
Buford has a week off before welcoming White County in its Region 8-AAAA opener on Sept. 19.
McEachern (0-2) hosts Peachtree Ridge next Friday
“The battle now is can our seniors and our coaches keep this team focused when everybody’s going to tell them how good they are,” Simpson said. “We’ve got a good ballclub, there’s no doubt, but we’re like any other ballclub. We can be beat any Friday night if we’re not ready mentally and emotionally.”