BUFORD — There’s no debating the fact Buford is headed into the postseason with a heap of momentum, even without a region championship.
The Wolves (7-3, 5-2 Region 7-AAA) have won five straight in region play by more than four touchdowns, including Friday’s 45-16 win against Region 7-AAA champion North Hall (8-2, 6-1) at Tom Riden Stadium.
“We feel like we’re the best team in the region by far and it showed tonight,” Buford quarterback Taylor Mitchell said.
The only thing keeping the Wolves from the region title was when they self-reported playing an academically ineligible player briefly in region wins against Banks County and West Hall, and subsequently had to forfeit those games.
However, Buford still feels it’s right where it wants to be headed into the postseason.
With the win, Buford plays host to Cedar Grove on Friday to open the playoffs; North Hall faces Woodward Academy in the playoff opener at The Brickyard.
The Wolves put together 412 yards of offense against the Trojans, and put an end to North Hall’s third-quarter momentum after quarterback Bradley Brown scored on a pair of rushing touchdowns to cut Buford’s lead momentarily to 24-13.
The Wolves rounded out the game with a pair of late touchdowns, including a 43-yard interception return and dive over a player into the end zone by linebacker Korie Rogers.
“Our team wanted to show it was the best team in the region on the grass, and they did,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “I’m fired up about the way our team played and how they finished.”
Even though North Hall rallied in the third quarter, a 24-0 halftime hole proved too much to dig out of against the Wolves.
“Against Buford, you have to play great for 48 minutes and we didn’t do that tonight,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said.
Leading 24-13 and facing third-and-7 in the third quarter, Mitchell came away with possibly the biggest play of the night. The Buford quarterback eluded sacks from North Hall defenders charging from both sides and slid out of bounds for a first down after a gain of 8. Instead of having to punt, the great first down run allowed Buford to score a touchdown just two plays later.
“Taylor made a great play with his feet on that run,” Simpson said. “You have to credit North Hall, they really came back on us.
“That was a huge scramble for the first down.”
Two plays later, Buford would seal the victory when Mitchell (9-of-14 passing for 178 yards) threw his second touchdown of the night on a 36-yard pass to Tre’ Neal. Mitchell’s first touchdown was on the game’s first drive when he connected with Thomas Wilson on a pass that went for a 48-yard score.
“I felt like we came out in the first half tonight and were uptight and were not playing well at all,” Christmas said.
“Then in the third quarter, we found a way to come back and grab the momentum.”
In the opening half, the majority of Buford’s offense was in the passing game. The Wolves got seven different receivers involved early. That wrinkle to their usual run-based offense set up long, sustained touchdown drives.
“We’ve really been working on trying to push the ball down field fast,” Mitchell added.
However, North Hall made it competitive for a while in the third period. First, the Trojans’ quarterback scored on a run from the 3 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. T.J. Tate (16 carries, 114 yards) set up North Hall’s first score with a 51-yard run on an eight-play drive.
Brown followed it up with a scored from the 29 only four minutes after his first touchdown run.
After Buford’s first touchdown drive, it started to work the ball downfield on the ground.
Leading 7-0 early in the second quarter, Wolves running back Zavior Hoxie capped a 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive with a score from the 2. Buford would go on to score 17 unanswered points in the second quarter, including a 26-yard field goal by Matthew Bonadies at time expired in the first half.
Buford’s other first half touchdown was on a 2-yard run by quarterback Montgomery VanGorder after North Hall fumbled a punt with just 2:45 left to play in the second quarter. On the second play of the drive, VanGorder hit Jaylen Mize on a pass that gained 13.
Hoxie finished with a team-high 13 carries for 72 yards for the Wolves.