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Buford leans on running game under pressure

BUFORD — Trailing for the first time all season in its Class AAA state semifinal matchup with Callaway, Buford didn’t have to look very far for the right formula to overcome that deficit in its come-from-behind 24-14 victory.

It came in the form of the Wolves’ patented rushing attack, which kick-started the second-half rally to send Buford on to the Class AAA championship against Washington County next Friday at the Georgia Dome.

Buford had fallen behind Callaway 7-0 in the first quarter and then trailed 14-7 at halftime.

But the Wolves went to work behind a veteran offensive line and a hot running back to strike for 17 third-quarter points against the Cavaliers (12-2).

Anchored by seniors Harrison Morgan and Nick Lulkowski, along with juniors Shane Robinson, Nick Polino and Hunter Holland, the Buford offensive line simply took matters into its own hands to open the second half.

“We had to keep pounding, keep working,” Morgan said. “We just started going crazy and really just shoving it down their throats. We trust our backs and knew they were running it good. We had to give them the room to make it happen.”

First it was a quick, four-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard Joshua Thomas touchdown run less than three minutes into the second half to tie it at 14.

Then it was Thomas for his third TD run of the night on another four-play drive that went 27 yards after an interception by Shug Frazier to make it 21-14.

Buford (14-0) finished off the third quarter with a 43-yard Matthew Bonadies field goal to complete an eight-play, 62-yard drive.

“We talked at halftime about dropping the mental mistakes and getting back to what we do best and that’s run the football,” Lulkowski said of a Buford attack that now has 66 rushing TDs on the season. “We had to come off the ball and take control. We have a lot of confidence in our running backs and tonight we got the job done.”

All told, Buford ran 15 offensive plays in the third quarter with 14 of those coming on the ground, including eight runs by Thomas as the Wolves took over the line of scrimmage.

Thomas finished with 222 yards on 20 carries to go along with his three TD runs.

But the junior running back, who is closing in on the 1,000-yard mark with one game to go, knows where to pass the praise.

“This feels great tonight,” Thomas said. “We have the best offensive linemen in the state. They were telling me at halftime that if I run hard, we will block for you and open up those holes. So I believed in them and kept running hard. We wanted to make them match our speed, not us match their speed.”

Thomas Wilson added 95 yards on 14 carries as Buford piled up 352 yards on the ground, which pleased head coach Jess Simpson.

“Our tight ends, fullbacks and O-line were just dominant, especially in that second half,” Simpson said. “That’s Buford. We were playing lights-out defense and we got the wind in the third quarter and took advantage of it. We just took it from there.”