Difference maker: Joshua Thomas was able to get the tough yards early for Buford on the ground and had a pair of long runs late to help wrap up the game.
Turning point: Xavier Gantt's kickoff return on the game's first play gave the Wolves all the momentum early. They cashed in with two scores before both teams settled in.
Stat that mattered: 18 rushing yards for Trinity Christian. Buford's swarming defense bottled up the Conquerors' athletes. Trinity Christian on multiple occasions tried unsuccessfully to get to the corner against Buford's speedy defense.
What's next: Buford (1-0) hosts Berkmar next Friday. Trinity Christian (0-1) plays at Warner Christian (South Daytona, Fla.) on Sept. 5.
BUFORD — Top-ranked Buford didn’t waste any time Saturday night.
Xavier Gantt’s 59-yard kickoff return on the game’s first play set the tone for a fast-paced first six minutes that proved decisive for the Wolves in a nationally-televised 17-0 victory against Trinity Christian from Jacksonville, Fla.
Six plays later, Wolves quarterback Luke Humphrey executed a play-action pass to find a wide-open Isaac Nauta across the middle for a 23-yard touchdown on fourth-and-four with nine minutes left in the opening quarter.
"We knew they were a team that they were going to try to come out and try to hit us in the mouth," Nauta said.
"Watching them on film, they're a really physical team. We knew that we had to match that and go above whatever they did."
The Wolves quickly found themselves back in the redzone minutes later, after pouncing on a Conquerors fumble at the 12-yard line on the ensuing drive.
"I was rushing the edge, got my helmet knocked loose," Nauta said. "And I couldn't see what was going on, and I straightened out my helmet, ended up running down the line and (forcing) a fumble."
The fast start was crucial as the teams locked into a defense-dominated battle from there.
Buford's defense in particular carried the night, limiting Trinity Christian to 55 total yards, including 18 rushing.
"We showed a lot of toughness," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "Both sides of the ball I thought we were really extremely physical."
It was a matchup of last season's Class AAA state champions from Georgia and Florida.
Then, the Wolves' ball control in the fourth quarter salted the game away. Buford got the ball back after a punt with 10:25 to play before beginning a 12-play march.
A 13-yard Evyn Cooper reception, a 16-yard Thomas run and a 13-yard Humphrey-to-Tyler Shipman connection on a fourth-and-five play highlighted the 66-yard drive that spanned six minutes, 44 seconds and finished with a 30-yard Matthew Bonadies field goal with 3:41 remaining.
Buford's rotation of backs paid off by keeping its guys fresh for that long drive that all but sealed the outcome.
Thomas totaled 69 rushing yards on 12 carries, and Humphrey completed six passes for 61 yards and a score.
"You hope you can score once against a team like that," Simpson said.
Quarterback Kevin Toliver had 28 rushing yards for the Conquerors.
Buford finished with 12 first downs and Trinity Christian had eight.
"The point is just to play somebody really good and find out some things that are really real about yourself," Simpson said. "But for us, to play and have this environment with ESPN, to have our community come out like that, that was unbelievable, just a crazy environment. That was so much fun."
Trinity Christian coach Vernon Dorminey said his team didn't play well offensively at all, but added "that's a good football team" and his guys would learn more from the game than a typical opener.
The Wolves have racked up 26 consecutive wins since being forced to forfeit a pair of victories midway through the 2012 season.
Buford (1-0) returns to action when it hosts Berkmar in a non-region battle next Friday at Tom Riden Stadium. Trinity Christian (0-1) visits Warner Christian (South Daytona, Fla.) on Sept. 5.