Wolves 35, Tigers 0
Stat that matters: Led by quarterback Will Westmoreland, subbing in for ailing starter Mic Roof, the Wolves rushed for 237 yards to only 13 for Fayette County.
Game changer: Down 21-0 late in the first half, Fayette looked to make a game of it after a 60-yard kickoff return to the Buford 30. But Brandon Marsh intercepted a pass at the 15 and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wolves a 28-0 halftime lead.
Up next: Buford will play host to Worth County in the second round.
BUFORD — No starting quarterback was no problem Friday night for the Buford Wolves, who took the first step in defending their Class AAAA state championship by defeating the Fayette County Tigers 35-0 on a cool evening at Tom Riden Stadium.
The Wolves (10-1) will play host to Worth County next Friday in the second round.
With starting quarterback Mic Roof recovering from an illness, the Wolves turned to backup Will Westmoreland and the sophomore didn’t disappoint. In his first career start, Westmoreland completed 4-of-6 passes for 72 yards with two touchdowns while relying on his offensive line and run game to control the contest.
The Wolves’ offense was the definition of efficient in the first half, rushing for 132 yards on 23 carries (with 237 total rush yards on 40 carries for the game) while scoring touchdowns on three of four possessions. A touchdown by the defense off a pick-6 by Brandon Marsh gave the Wolves a 28-0 lead at the half.
“It felt great,” Westmoreland said of his performance. “I was just excited for the opportunity and challenge, and I thankful for my line for blocking for me and our running backs and receivers for making plays.”
Asked if he felt nervous knowing he was the man since midweek, “Not at all. I had trust in my teammates. They took care of me. No. 56, Cooper Simpson, and the line took care of me throughout the game which I was really thankful for.”
In the balanced attack, no Wolf carried the ball more than nine times (Xavier Gantt) or had more than 53 yards (Martin Mangram).
“It’s great to have teammates to where you can choose anybody and they can make a play for you,” Westmoreland said.
“Mic (Roof) was out sick all week. We’re glad we got him back to school today so we had him if we needed him in an emergency but you have to tip your cap to Will Westmoreland,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said of his young signal caller. “For a young guy to come in and get your first taste, Mic did that last year as a sophomore against McEachern when he had to play the whole second half. That was something special.
“Will knew by Wednesday that it was going to be his deal and we were going to protect him. And the guys around him, our seniors, just encouraged him and were behind him knowing that he was going to make a mistake or two. Operations-wise I thought he did a great job tonight. He threw some great balls. He threw one late over the middle at the goal line (which was intercepted) that he’d love to do over, but that’s football.”
Mangram led the ground attack with 53 yards on 7 carries with a touchdown, and Gantt adding 49 yards on nine carries and a touchdown of his own. In all, nine Wolves would carry the ball in the balanced attack.
“We do such a good job of being unselfish and that starts with Martin Mangram and Xavier Gantt,” Simpson said of his offense, which averages 45.8 points-per-game this season. “Everyone takes their turn and they all work hard and flip over and play defense. And that’s the part in having great intangibles, in having seniors that buy into how we do it and being as unselfish as they are.”
After a quick three-and-out by Fayette County to start the game, a short punt gave the Wolves the ball at the Tigers’ 35-yard line. The Wolves kept the ball on the ground, rushing on all seven plays capped off by a Mangram 1-yard run to put the Wolves up 7-0 at the 6:31 mark of the first quarter.
After another short Fayette drive, the Wolves went on an eight-play, 65-yard drive capped by a Xavier Gant 1-yard run for a 14-0 Buford lead on the first play of the second quarter.
After exchanging punts, and a turnover by Fayette on an interception by R.J. Walker, the Wolves then scored on a three-minute drive capped by a 14-yard touchdown reception by Marsh from Westmoreland on third-and-12 for a 21-0 lead.
The final minute of the half had more excitement than the first 23 minutes combined as a 60-yard kickoff return by Fayette’s Wade Barlow put the Tigers in great field position at the Buford 30-yard line. But the Wolves’ defense held when Marsh intercepted an Anthoine Powell pass at the 15 and zig-zagged his way through traffic, taking the ball 85 yards for an incredible “pick-6” to give the Wolves an insurmountable 28-0 lead with seconds remaining until the half.
Buford forced two turnovers in the half and three in the game, leading to 21 points, and held the Tigers to only 40 first-half yards, 25 of those on one reception. Jake Simpson added an interception in the third quarter then caught a 16-yard pass from Westmoreland for the final touchdown.
“We talked this week that we hadn’t had a bunch of turnovers yet. We had a bunch of three-and-outs so it was fun to see those guys in the secondary pick off some passes and we got after the quarterback a little bit,” Simpson said of his defense that held the Tigers to 69 total yards and only 23 rushing.
The Wolves have six shutouts in 11 games this season.
“It wasn’t perfect on offense, it wasn’t perfect on defense. The kickoff team got split one time so we still have plenty to work on but we survived round one. Now the steaks go up and it’s about being focused and doing what we have to do to play our best ball from now on out,” Simpson said of his team.