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Strong start leads Buford past North Hall

BUFORD -- Buford sprinted out to a 24-0 halftime lead and held off an early second half challenge from North Hall to earn the 45-16 victory in a battle of the region's top two teams Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium.

The Wolves rolled up 412 yards of total offense and, in spite of what is reflected in the current standings, proved once again what many suspected heading into last night's showdown -- Buford remains the class of Region 7-AAA.

"Our kids proved it (tonight) on the field, on the grass and in the dirt," said Buford head coach Jess Simpson. "Our seniors talked about this game all week. They wanted to leave no doubt of who the best team in this region was and we did that. We beat a really good football team tonight."

Buford (7-3, 5-2) came out passing and seemed to catch North Hall off guard with early play action on its first series. The Wolves opened the game with a 22-yard connection from Taylor Mitchell to David Curry and, just three plays later, Mitchell found Thomas Wilson on a 48-yard scoring strike to take a 7-0 lead with 9:53 remaining in the quarter.

"We came into the game looking to throw the ball a little more, to take what advantage of what the defense gave us," said Mitchell. "They loaded the box against us and we found some guys wide open."

While North Hall was managing just 18 yards of total offense in the first half, Buford continued to march up and down the field. Zavior Hoxie scored from two yards out on fourth-and-goal to open the second quarter. The Wolves turned a muffed punt into another touchdown when Montgomery VanGorder rushed in from two yards out a play after a 20-yard pitch and catch from VanGorder to Jaylen Mize gave Buford the ball at the 2-yard line. Buford finished the half with 27-yard field goal from Matthew Bonadies as time expired.

North Hall cut the gap to 24-13 in the third quarter when Buford's Mitchell made what was probably the play of the game.

Facing a third-and-seven, Mitchell dropped back to pass and was quickly forced to scramble for his life. He narrowly avoided several would-be tacklers, and scrambled for nine yards along the North Hall sideline to keep the Wolves' drive alive. After a false start and on the next play from scrimmage, Mitchell finished what he started and found Tre' Neal for a 36-yard TD pass with 0:37 remaining in the quarter to give Buford breathing room at 31-13.

The Wolves salted the game away in the fourth quarter behind a nine-yard TD run by Wilson and a 52-yard interception return for TD by Korie Rogers.

North Hall, which dropped to 8-2 overall; 6-1 region, exits Friday night's affair as the region's top-ranked team -- if only on paper -- but looked little like the team that had been running up and down the field on its opposition the first nine games of the season. Coming into Friday's contest, the Trojans had averaged 45.6 points and 422 yards of offense per game (including 371 on the ground), but finished with just 232 total yards on this night.

"Our kids really came to play tonight," said Simpson. "I feel as good about this team and this group of seniors as I've felt about a team in a long time. We may be the second seed from the region, but somebody is going to have to deal with us in the playoffs. We are not even close to being as good as we can be and that is exciting."

Mitchell finished the evening with nine completions on 14 attempts for 178 yards and 2 TDs for Buford. Seven different receivers had a catch for the Wolves, led by Neal with three grabs for 46 yards and the one score. Playing without its leading rusher Dontravious Wilson, Buford was led on the ground by Hoxie, who had 72 yards and a TD on 13 carries and Joshua Thomas, who had 70 yards on just six carries.

As the second seed from region 7-AAA, Buford will host Cedar Grove next Friday night.