BUFORD — After cruising through the first four region games, Buford coach Jess Simpson knew his team needed a test before the playoffs.
It came Friday night in the form of Loganville, a team that had also cruised through Region 8-AAAAA play with the exception of one game. The contest that would determine a No. 1 playoff seed pitted two 7-1 teams with undefeated region marks against each other, a stiff test indeed for Simpson’s squad.
The Wolves passed with flying colors. In fact, they were hardly even tested at all.
Buford turned what was supposed to be a tightly contested showdown into an emphatic 35-10 win, securing the region championship at Tom Riden Stadium. The Wolves (8-1, 5-0) gained 417 yards and held the Red Devils (7-2, 4-1) to just three first downs in locking up their 28th region title in school history.
“We kind of knew this was going to be the challenge in our region,” Simpson said. “To see us answer the bell and do it at home tonight, it was fun.”
Other than two big plays — a scoring catch-and-run and a lengthy punt return — Buford held Loganville in check all night. The Red Devils gained just 90 yards, 55 of which came on one play.
Loganville had shut out three of its first four region opponents, building a reputation as one of the state’s toughest defenses. But it struggled to even slow down junior running back Anthony Grant, who scored on runs of 16 and 2 yards on the Wolves’ second and third possessions.
“That’s who we are. We’re going to run zone and stretch and power,” Simpson said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. (Our rushing output) was quality because their front, people have struggled to move the ball on them.”
Grant’s second touchdown was set up by the first of senior defensive back KJ Anderson’s two interceptions, which he snatched off a ricochet.
“It was a tunnel screen coming back to the quarterback,” Anderson said. “I slipped and got bumped. I was pretty surprised I got the ball because it hit someone’s helmet.”
The Red Devils finally got the spark they needed when senior receiver Shy Kim turned a short pass into a 55-yard score, zig-zagging around multiple Buford defenders on his way to the end zone.
Loganville later called a trick punt return, sending two players back to field the kick. The Wolves raced to defend the returner who called for a fair catch, while senior Rhett Mixon actually fielded the punt in open space and raced 66 yards before stumbling at Buford’s 9-yard line.
But the Wolves stood tall, forcing the Red Devils to settle for Josh Moore’s 34-yard field goal.
“Forcing a field goal right there was huge,” Simpson said. “It was about to be a tied ball game if we don’t. ... That was certainly a big point in the game.”
Buford struck another blow before halftime as senior quarterback Mic Roof (9-for-10, 94 yards) found sophomore running back Derrian Brown for a 9-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left.
After the Wolves opened the second half by forcing one of their several three-and-outs, Roof connected with senior tight end Jake Simpson for an 8-yard touchdown that put Buford ahead 28-10.
The Wolves relied on their suffocating defense and running game the rest of the way, and junior running back Christian Turner (13 carries, 110 yards) provided a knockout, 32-yard score with less than six minutes to play. Grant finished with 173 yards on 31 carries, part of Buford’s 323-yard performance.
“We really just executed, and that was the biggest thing,” Roof said. “We weren’t really worried about who we were playing. We were worried about how we were going to play, and I think we came out and took care of business.”
The Wolves close the regular season at home against Flowery Branch next week. Regardless of that result, Buford will finish its first season in AAAAA as region champs — and maybe better, considering its strong showing against Loganville.