CARROLLTON — Playing without his two top running backs and leading tackler from the start of his team’s Class AAAAA state quarterfinal football game against Carrollton and then losing his starting quarterback late in the third quarter, Buford coach Bryant Appling knew he would have to pull out all the stops.
A gutsy performance by third-string running back Victor Venn and two equally gutsy play calls by Appling and his staff were the keys as the No. 2 Wolves overcame the top-ranked Trojans 24-21 Friday night before a standing room only crowd of more than 9,000 at Grisham Stadium.
“Just the toughness and the grit and the hard work that we’ve been filling these guys with since January,” first-year Buford head coach Bryant Appling said after his Wolves (12-1) earned a date on the road at Jones County in next week’s state semifinals. “They knew it was always the next man up mentality. If somebody gets hurt, the next guy’s getting just as many reps in practice and just as many reps during the season. If the situation comes up, they can step up and play big.”
Venn ran for a game-high 235 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, and Hayden Olsen’s 28-yard field goal as time expired provided the winning margin.
But it was a play the senior kicker made about three minutes earlier that may have been even bigger.
With the game tied at 21-all and Buford facing fourth-and-6 at its own 36-yard line, Appling decided to game and called for a fake punt.
“It’s something we’ve been working on all year long,” Appling said. “We’ve been working on a couple of different fake (punt) situations, and … I give it up to Coach Dash (defensive line coach Drew Dasher) on that fake. He was telling me all game long, ‘It’s there, it’s there, it’s there.’ We almost called it one time earlier when it was fourth-and-eight. I’m glad we held it.”
It was up to Olsen, who had never thrown a pass in a competitive game before, to execute it, and he delivered a strike to Justice Johnson for a 7-yard gain and a Buford first down at the Wolves’ 43 to keep the drive alive.
“We were practicing (that play) all week,” Olsen said. “It was kind of a new play that we drew up at the beginning of the week. And I was just happy to be in the right moment and the right time to execute it.”
Another clutch completion — this time, a 22-yard strike from back-up quarterback Ashton Daniels to Nate Norys on third and 6 extended the drive again and brought the Wolves down to the Carrollton (12-1) 31 with just 1:56 left on the clock.
Then facing third and 13 back at the 34 with time winding down, Venn cut to his left behind a block and found enough open space for a 23-yard gain down to the Trojans’ 11. It was Venn’s third run of 23 yards or more on the night.
“I was really surprised,” Venn said. “I thought (Carrollton was) going to crack down and try to load the box. So I was just happy to see enough room, and I just had to do my thing and do whatever I could do to get my team into good field position.”
Appling let the clock run down to 2.5 seconds before calling his team’s final timeout, which left the game on the foot of Hayden, who said any jitters he may have had were gone, thanks to the earlier fake punt.
“It kind of got some of the nerves out, and I kind of built up more adrenaline,” Hayden said of the fake punt. “(The kick) was just going back to my fundamentals. We practice those situations all the time. The coaches, they ice me, they prepare me as much as possible.”
Olsen showed no nerves as the stepped forward and booted the ball true through the uprights as time expired for the game-winner.
The fake punt was one of two clutch calls by Appling at just the right time in the game.
The other came with Buford facing fourth and 2 at its own 27-yard line and trailing 14-7 just past the midway point of the second quarter.
After taking a time out, Appling rolled the dice, and it literally came up a seven.
Jarvis Evans Jr., who left the game with an injury later in the game, handed the ball to Venn, who found enough room to his left to get to the first line of defense right at the first down marker.
But the sophomore kept his feet moving, broke a tackle and sprinted down the left sideline for a 73-yard touchdown that pulled the Wolves even at 14-all with 5:06 left in the first half.
“Really, (running backs) Coach (Fyrone) Davis was telling me that I was going to be running and I was really prepared,” Venn said. “It was a really gutsy call, but I know that everyone has faith in each other, and we would all be OK. So when I ran to the outside, I just got in the gap and jumped in and took it to the house.”
BUFORD 24, CARROLLTON 21
Carrollton: Mecose Todd 73 run (Damean Dominguez kick), 8:40
Buford: Julien Lewis 13 pass from Jarvis Evans Jr. (Hayden Olsen kick), 11:08
Carrollton: Todd 1 run (Dominquez kick), 7:21
Buford: Victor Venn 72 run (Olsen kick), 5:06
Carrollton: Todd 1 run (Dominguez kick), 7:29
Buford: Venn 4 run (Olsen kick), 11:54
Buford: Olsen 28 FG, 0:00
Rushing — Buford: Venn 34-235, Xalan Taylor 4-14, Dylan Wittke 2-11, Jaramius Isaac 1-(-2), TEAM 1-(-2), Jarvis Evans 4-(-3), Ashton Daniels 1-(-4). Carrollton: Todd 22-186, Myles Morris 9-55, Kodee Brewer 7-36, Terrell Carmichael 1-2.
Passing — Buford: Daniels 1-2-0, 22; Evans 1-8-0, 13; Olsen 1-1-0, 7. Carrollton: Myles Morris 9-17-1, 61; Nick Tuggle 0-1-0, 0.
Receiving — Buford: Nate Norys 1-22, Lewis 1-13, Justin Johnson 1-7. Carrollton: Carmichael 3-21, Grant Briscoe 3-21, Ace Williamson 2-24, Todd 1-(-5).