Photo: Josh Martindale Buford running back C.J. Moore eludes two Carver-Columbus defenders as he opens up the field for a big gain.
BUFORD -- If George Washington Carver is the No. 2 team in Class AA, the gap between Buford and the rest of the classification can be measured by Friday's third quarter.
Trailing 14-0 and coming out of the locker room with the ball, the Tigers had a chance to make a game of it against No. 1-ranked Buford. Instead they went backward.
The Buford defense, with the help of a muffed punt, allowed minus-15 yards in the quarter, didn't allow a first down and twice set the offense up in Carver territory.
"We talked about that (at halftime). We were excited," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "We said we wanted to win the first five minutes of the third quarter, flip the field, try to go in and score and try to stretch this thing out and the kids stayed on script pretty good with that."
They didn't improvise at all.
The three-and-out led to a punt and then a 5-minute, 35-second scoring drive as Buford pulled away for a 35-7 win over Carver, the only team to beat the four-time defending state champion Wolves a season ago.
"I don't know if you want to call it revenge," Simpson said of beating Carver. "But they certainly had a taste in their mouths from a year ago that they wanted to get out."
Nathan Staub spent every chance he got rinsing his mouth. The senior fullback and linebacker came up with more than one huge tackle in the backfield to snuff out Carver running plays and when he had the ball on offense, put it in the end zone. Staub carried the ball four times for 50 yards and on two consecutive carries scored touchdowns.
But Staub plays defense first and even with the win, the one Carver score, put up against the second-team defense, gnawed at him.
"We really wanted that goose egg, but it's football, it happens," he said.
As much as the third quarter defined the game, the score never fully explained the extent of the dominance.
Carver picked up four first downs all game, and two of them came on the first drive. After that, Carver's offense never looked comfortable. It picked up 26 yards on that first drive before the Wolves' defense forced a punt. And from there, things picked up for Buford.
On the punt, Andre' Johnson led a charge of five Wolves through the middle of the Carver line, blocking the kick and setting up the Wolves' second drive on the Tigers' 21-yard line. Five plays later, Johnson punched the ball in from 4 yards out to give Buford a 7-0 lead after the first quarter.
The rest of the half, Carver netted just 10 yards and its only first down came on one of Buford's many penalties.
Buford's Jaylen Mize intercepted Carver's Torrance McGee's first pass after the first touchdown, giving the Wolves the ball again in Tigers' territory. The drive stalled after a pair of penalties set them up with a first-and-24. David Petroni attempted a 40-yard field goal, but the ball sailed left, leaving the Wolves scoreless.
After the Buford defense forced another shaky possession from Carver, Staub came up with Buford's biggest play of the game. On a run up the middle, the fullback broke three tackles at the line of scrimmage broke away to the outside and rumbled 46 yards for the Wolves' second touchdown and a 14-0 halftime lead.
"It was fun to score and help the team," Staub said, crediting his offensive line.
Carver managed just 36 yards of offense in the first half, compared to the Wolves' 143. Buford actually did more damage to itself with 60 yards in first-half penalties than Carver inflicted its defense.
The Tigers did flash their speed with an 85-run by Nate Barley down to the 6-yard line, but a holding penalty erased the biggest gain of the game by the first team.
Then came the third quarter and the end of any chance for the Tigers.
Carver scored its only touchdown in the fourth quarter against Buford's reserves on a big-play up the middle and that was it. The Buford second-team didn't allow another first down.
That was the tone set by the defensive starters.
"Those 11 guys and the guys that rotate in with them just played their tails off," Simpson said. "I am really, really proud of them. Super effort to keep a team like that scoreless for a half, three quarters, until we subbed late in the game."