BUFORD - Buford fought off a gallant effort from Lovett and prevailed with a 21-7 victory in the second round of the Class AA playoffs Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium.
With the victory, Buford improves to 12-0 and will host Charlton County next Friday night in a rematch of the last two AA state championship games.
Despite Lovett's effort, truth be told, Buford's biggest enemy all night wasn't the visiting Lions - it was itself.
After driving inside the Lovett 10-yard line on its first two possessions of the game, the Wolves fumbled the ball away on both occasions. Then on its fourth series, Buford missed a 27-yard field goal attempt - an attempt that was only necessary because two procedure penalties killed a first-and-goal opportunity from the 1.
By the time the evening was over, Buford had turned the ball over four times and committed 12 penalties for 77 yards.
Not exactly the type of stuff the home faithful is used to seeing from the guys wearing green and gold.
"I give a lot of credit to Lovett," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "But our execution just didn't match our effort. I told the kids after the game that most nights when you turn the ball over like we did, you usually learn a hard lesson and it comes with a loss. We are blessed to be playing another week."
After forcing Lovett to punt on its opening drive, Buford quickly drove from its own 33 to the Lovett 7-yard line in seven plays. But on the next play, Matt Pridemore lost the handle and the Lions took over at the 6. After another Lovett punt, Chase Burnette set the Wolves up in great shape with a 40-yard punt return to the 5. But on the very next play, Quinton Cantrell coughed it up and Lovett dodged another
On its fourth possession, and after another strong punt return by Burnette, Buford appeared poised to score when Justin Roper hit Dylan Adamson for a 9-yard strike to the 1. But the Wolves committed back-to-back procedure penalties which forced a 27-yard field goal attempt. And keeping in line with the way the evening was going for Buford, the attempt sailed wide right.
The first half would have ended scoreless if not for a botched screen pass from Lovett quarterback Kyle Collins. Instead of taking a knee with under a minute to play before the break, Collins' attempted an ill-timed throw which Buford's Omar Hunter intercepted and rambled 39 yards to the 1. Jordan Grant went over on the next play and the PAT gave Buford a 7-0 lead.
But even as the Wolves appeared to finally get on track, they were beset with another dose of bad luck. Pridemore, Buford's top running back, hurt his shoulder as he attempted to block for Roper on a rollout pass on the second to last play before the half and did not return for the rest of the game.
After the half, the Wolves played to their size advantage up front - content to run the ball and control the clock. With Pridemore watching on the sidelines, Cantrell took over - rushing 20 times for 147 yards in the second half alone to finish with a game-high 170 yards on 24 carries.
The junior had TD runs of 12 and 19 yards to cap Buford's first two possessions of the second half and give the Wolves some breathing room at last.
"I thought he (Cantrell) ran tough and with great vision," Simpson said. "We've used him to spell Matt all year, so if Matt can't go next week, Quinton will be ready."
Buford's defense held Lovett to just 19 yards rushing on 20 carries and sacked Collins three times. Collins threw for 137 yards and a TD, but only completed 14 of 34 attempts.
Pridemore rushed for 56 yards on eight carries before leaving with the shoulder injury. Zach Neason chipped in with 39 yards on five carries. Roper, after completing 88 percent of his passes over the last two games, was not as efficient and completed just 2 of 10 passes for 34 yards.
Buford outgained Lovett 317 to 166 in total offense, including 214 to 63 in the decisive second half.