Photo: David McGregor Buford defenders Mikey Bart (44), Donte' Gordon, Korie Rogers (43) and Deion King (8) tackle a Cedar Grove ball carrier Friday night in Buford.
BUFORD -- Most first-round opponents during Buford's 14 consecutive playoff appearances were overmatched and resulted in easy victories. But Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium, Cedar Grove proved a worthy foe.
"That's the best looking football team that's come in here in a long time", said Buford head coach Jess Simpson. "Size, strength, speed and the scheme that they ran with the way they spread you out with their athletes. We haven't seen anybody all year with that combination of size, strength and speed."
Fortunately, the third-ranked Wolves (8-3) have size, strength and speed themselves.
Zavior Hoxie ran for 107 yards and a touchdown, and the Buford defense held prolific Cedar Grove quarterback Johnathon McCrary to 203 passing yards as the Wolves pulled away in the second half for a 41-27 win.
A key sequence of events tilted the game to the Wolves late in the second quarter. With Buford leading 14-7 and driving, Cedar Grove defensive back Chris Fredrick intercepted a Montgomery VanGorder pass near midfield and returned it to the Buford 5-yard line. However, the Saints were flagged for roughing the passer and the Wolves retained possession at the Cedar Grove 34-yard line with 2:21 remaining in the half.
"Talk about a bail you out deal," said Simpson, "that was a break."
Buford capitalized four plays later when Taylor Mitchell connected with Mikey Bart on a 9-yard TD pass with 42 seconds remaining in the half to extend the lead to 20-7.
It looked like another Buford rout early. The Wolves took the opening kick and needed only four plays to cover 90 yards, capped by a 2-yard TD run by Hoxie. Joshua Thomas ran 5 yards for a TD on the next Buford possession for a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Cedar Grove responded with a 7-yard TD run by Deion Sellers on the ensuing possession to carve the lead to 14-7.
A wild third quarter produced two TDs by each team. Sellers scored on a 6-yard run and 95-yard kickoff return to sandwich Buford TDs by Thomas and Jaylen Mize, giving the Wolves a 34-21 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Buford finally put the Saints away on a 30-yard TD pass from VanGorder to David Curry early in the fourth. Cedar Grove added a late TD for the final margin.
"We needed that game to get ready for the rest of the AAA playoffs," said Simpson.
McCrary entered the game needing 305 passing yards to become the state's career leader. He came up short, finishing 24-for-37 for 203 yards with one TD and one interception as the Wolves' defense never gave up a big play.
"They had a height advantage on us on the perimeter and we had to keep the ball in front of us," said Simpson. "We lost two DBs during the game and had to play some kids out of position. We just thought we'll keep it in front and not take a lot of chances. We played very conservative, but that's what we had to do to win."
Hoxie led the Wolves with 107 yards on 8 carries and a TD, and Thomas added 93 yards on 14 carries and 2 TDs as Buford rolled up 435 yards of total offense.
Buford advances to the second round to face North Oconee.