GRAY — The game plan was simple for the visiting team in Friday’s Class AAAAA state semifinal football game at Greyhound Field.
Play Buford football, and the Wolves stamped their trademark on a 29-0 shutout of Jones County to earn their first trip back to the state title game in three years, where a date with Warner Robins next Friday at Georgia State University Stadium awaits.
Buford piled up 299 yards on 41 carries from 12 different individual runners, led by 108 yards and two touchdowns by sophomore Victor Venn.
And while Jones County (12-2) finished with 200 yards of total offense, those numbers belied how dominant the Buford (13-1) defense was in allowing just 33 yards on the ground, most of which were amassed after the issue was decided, and harassing Greyhounds quarterback Hunter Costlow for six sacks, including 2 1/2 by Evan DiMaggio and two more by Carlton Holley.
“That’s what we preached all week long,” said Bryant Appling, who will take the Wolves back to finals for the 11th time in the last 13 years in his first season as Buford’s head coach. “We knew we had to play good defense against a good team that could put it in the air a lot. And then (offensively) we had to run the ball and keep control of the clock on a night like this.”
Stage 1 of that game plan got off to a good start.
Gabe Ervin Jr., back after missing last week’s quarterfinal win at Carrollton with an injury, gave Buford and early boost with a 50-yard burst on his first carry of the game.
The junior only added 10 more yards on seven carries, but his big chunk run was an important one, setting up a 43-yard Hayden Olsen field goal and a 3-0 Buford lead just 2:28 after the opening kickoff.
But momentum may have shifted towards the Wolves after Jones County looked like it would quickly answer with a score in its first possession of the game.
Three Costlow completions, all to Maleek Wooten, and a couple of well-timed runs moved the Greyhounds 79 yards in eight plays to as close as the Buford 1-yard line.
But on third and goal, the Wolves' defensive line took advantage when Charles Gooden ran into his own lineman to post a 1-yard loss, and Holley sped into the backfield for a 13-yard loss on a third-down sack to turn the ball over on downs and keep Buford on top.
“That was pretty good, but we knew we to have a (fast) start,” Holley said. “So (the first several plays of the drive) were big wake-up call for us. That was a big momentum swing. After that (first) drive, (The Greyhounds’) body language changed. But at the same time, we knew from practice this week we had to be .. really strict with on what we had to do for this game.”
From that point, the Buford defense allowed just 16 yards and sacked Costlow three more times over the remainder of the half, while the offense began to heat up.
“We knew they had some issues protecting on our four- and five-man pressures,” Appling said. “We were timely with those. We sent a couple early that we didn’t like, but we adjusted and did a great job with the defensive coaches getting that stuff right and get some pressure in (Cutlow’s) face.”
After driving to the Jones County 29 by the end of the opening frame, Appling drew up some more trickery on the first play fo the second quarter, with Evans pitching on an end around reverse to Treyton Rank, who pulled up and fired to a wide-open Craig Clinkscales, who juked one defender and sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown that extended the Wolves’ lead to 13-0 with 11:49 left in the first half.
Buford then got a break when an apparent interception by Jones County’s Jitavius Whipple in the end zone on the ninth play of a 51-yard drive was ruled incomplete after hitting the ground, Olsen extended the lead to 13-0 with a 37-yard field goal with 6:02 left in the half before the Wolves’ defense flexed its muscles again.
This time after a holding call set Jones County back to its own 7-yard line, a host of Wolves, led by DiMaggio and Aubrey Smith, swarmed under Costlow for a sack in the end zone for a safety to make the score 15-0 with 5:46 left in the half.
“That was (also) a big momentum shift,” DiMaggio, who was back for his third game after missing parts of eight games to an injury earlier in the season, said of the safety. “Again, it was just doing what we do.”
Then after taking over at their own 35 on the ensuing free kick, the Wolves marched 65 yards in seven plays, with Venn bolting in from 6 yards out with 1:23 left to send Buford into intermission with a 22-0 lead.
The Buford defense then came up big again on the first possession of the second half after Cutlow began to find a little more time and completed four more passes for 40 yards to help Jones County move into Buford territory.
But when Cutlow was off the mark on pass to Wooten on fourth and 5 at the Buford 21, the Wolves had forced a turnover on downs.
And the Buford running game applied the knockout blow on the ensuing possession, with Jake Pope chewing up 31 yards on a reverse, followed by Venn’s second touchdown on the night, this one from 38 yards out, to make the Buford lead 29-0 with 6:23 left in the third quarter.
The Buford reserves then got into the act after Jones County turned the ball over on downs again with 8:51 remaining.
Eight different players ran the ball during the final drive that covered 52 yards, picked up four first downs and drained the remainder of the clock, with reserve quarterback Ashton Daniels taking a knee to close out the game.
BUFORD 29, JONES CO. 0
Buford 3 19 7 0 ― 29
Jones Co. 0 0 0 0 ― 0
Buford: Hayden Olsen 43 FG, 9:32
Buford: Craig Clinkscales 29 pass from Treyton Rank (Olsen kick), 11:49
Buford: Olsen 37 FG, 6:02
Buford: Safety. Evan DiMaggio, Aubrey Smith tackle Hunter Costlow in end zone, 5:46
Buford: Victor Venn 6 run (Olsen kick), 1:23
Buford: Venn 38 run (Olsen kick), 6:23
Rushing — Buford: Venn 14-108, Gave Ervin Jr. 8-60, Jake Pope 1-31, Dylan Wittke 2-27, Ashton Daniels 2-23, Xalan Taylor 4-19, Ace Edwards 2-10, Eli Parks 1-7, Ryan McKinnis 2-3, Clinkscales 1-2, Javen Sadler 1-0, E.J. Adams 2- (-1), TEAM 2-(-2). Jones Co.: Andrew Carner 6-12, Costlow 12-11, John Walton 1-10, Charles Gooden 2-0.
Passing — Buford: Jarvis Evans Jr. 2-6-0, 34; Rank 1-1-0, 29; Daniels 0-2-0, 0. Jones Co.: Costlow 22-29-0, 167.
Receiving — Buford: Clinkscales 1-29, Parks 1-21, Pope 1-13. Jones Co.: Maleek Wooten 7-77, Carner 6-25, Jontavis Roberrtson 4-31, Walton 1-11, Keegan Baxter 1-11, Caden Mutchler 1-7, Drew Jones 1-5.