Different coach. Same ol’ Buford.
After leading Roswell to the Class AAAAAAA finals last season, John Ford took over the reins at the perennial title contender, which played for the Class AAAAA title last season. The Wolves (11-1) are a win away from going back to the AAAAA finals after a hard-fought 20-17 win over previously unbeaten Stockbridge (12-1).
The Wolves did it the way they always have since they became one of the state’s most dominant programs beginning in 2000: tough, stingy defense and a physical running game. The win over the Tigers was Buford’s 11th consecutive quarterfinal victory and gives them a shot to defeat the team that beat them in last year’s finals, Rome.
Though he obviously knows about the Wolves’ winning tradition, Ford doesn’t feel the pressure.
“I just want to win for these kids and for this community,” he said afterward. “Nothing else, no other motivating factors make me want to win more. But we can’t make the mistakes we did tonight and expect to beat a team like Rome. Their defensive line is unreal, maybe even better than this team we played tonight, which is saying something because Stockbridge’s defensive line is outstanding.”
Buford trailed 14-3 at the half, and was down 7-0 less than 10 seconds into the game after Demaje Carter intercepted Buford quarterback Aaron McLaughlin on the first play of the game and took it 15 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 7-0 after Rico Saunders’ extra point kick.
But Buford seized momentum on its’ first possession of the third quarter, after forcing Stockbridge to punt. The Wolves took over on their 16-yard line and put together an 11-play drive that was capped by a 2-yard run by Anthony Grant to cut the Stockbridge lead 14-10.
Stockbridge fumbled on its next possession and Buford recovered at the Tigers’ 46-yard line. Four plays later, Christian Turner bulled in from two yards out to give the Wolves a 17-14 lead, seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Tigers tied the score at 17 on their next possession, courtesy of a 27-yard field goal by Saunders. But Buford put together the final scoring drive of the night on its next possession. The Wolves moved the ball to the Stockbridge 7-yard line, thanks in large part to a 30-yard pass along the near sideline from McLaughlin to Isaiah Isaac. But as it did most of the night, Stockbridge’s defense stood tall and forced a 25-yard field goal by Olsen.
The teams exchanged punts and Stockbridge had one last possession at the Buford 48-yard line with just 12 seconds left, but couldn’t get into scoring range.
It was another disappointing end to the post season for the Tigers. They have won four consecutive region titles and five of the last six. They have finished the last three regular seasons undefeated. But they have not been able to advance to a state final during the run.
“If we make a couple more plays and don’t give up a couple of big plays, we win the game,” said head coach Kevin Whitley, architect of Stockbridge’s recent success. “At the end of the day, that’s on me. Our job is to prepare our players to make plays when they present themselves. When that doesn’t happen, it’s on me as the coach.
“It’s tough, but at this time of the season, you either win or you go home,” Whitley said. “That’s where we are. It’s tough, but that’s where we are.”
Buford 0 3 7 10 20
Stockbridge 7 7 0 3 17
S – Demaje Carter 15 interception return (Rico Saunders kick)
S – BJ Riley 2 run (Saunders kick)
B – Hayden Olsen 27 field goal
B – Anthony Grant 2 run (Olsen kick)
B – Christian Turner 2 run (Olsen kick)
S – Saunders 27 field goal
B – Olsen 25 field goal