JEFFERSON—The Buford High football team isn’t used to road playoff games, but its performance against fourth-ranked Jefferson on Friday proved that the Wolves can win anywhere.
Hitting the road in the playoffs for only the second time in eight seasons, the defending Class AA state champions continued their quest for a third straight consecutive title with a 30-22 second-round victory over the unbeaten Dragons at Jefferson Memorial Stadium.
Buford will return home to face Cook, a 29-21 winner over Appling County, in the quarterfinals next Friday.
Despite a closer-than-typical contest for Buford (11-1), which has seven shutouts this season, the Wolves managed to score on every drive except for two, using long plays and running down the clock to keep a Darius Minor-led Jefferson offense off the field.
Buford finished off the Dragons by recovering a fumble late in the fourth quarter that silenced Jefferson’s chance to tie the game in the closing minutes.
"We were on the ropes," Wolves coach Jess Simpson said. "That was huge. We had to make a play. They had a little bit of confusion in the backfield, and we had to make a play."
For Jefferson (11-1), the game ended the high school careers of 17 seniors, including quarterback Minor. The senior was 14-for-30 passing with 130 yards and two touchdowns while leading the team in rushing with 66 yards.
"They’ve been a great team," Dragons coach T. McFerrin said. "We never gave up, and I’m proud of that. We knew it would be challenge, but we had a chance."
After taking a 3-point lead after the first quarter on David Petroni’s 37-yard field goal, Buford took a 10-0 lead when quarterback Alexander Ross dodged several Jefferson defenders before finding an open Jessel Curry in the secondary for a 54-yard touchdown pass.
Curry was the team’s leading receiver with 66 yards. Fellow senior Sherman Page had a team-high seven catches for 62 yards.
Buford scored again later in the quarter, on a run-dominated drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass by Eric Barr.
But Jefferson countered every Buford score in second quarter with one of its own, beginning with a 25-yard scamper by Caleb Meek shortly after the Wolves’ first touchdown.
After Buford’s second score, the Dragons countered with Minor’s 9-yard pass to Tyler Porter with eight seconds remaining in the first half, moving Jefferson within three points at halftime.
Porter was Jefferson’s leading receiver with six catches for 73 yards.
Buford opened the second half with a 17-yard drive that ended on a 1-yard touchdown by Curry. The Wolves scored again in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard run by Darrian Smith to take a 30-14 lead.
Jefferson closed on the Wolves’ lead midway through the fourth quarter when Minor connected with J.J. Damons for a 49-yard touchdown reception, moving the Dragons within eight.
The Dragons recovered the ball on the ensuing drive on an onside kick, only to lose it four plays later on a fumble recovery by Mitchell DeWalt, sealing the win for Buford.