Photo: David McGregor — Buford's Joshua Thomas fights for extra yardage on Carver-Columbus' Talik Quarterman (6) and Anthony Kimble (27) in the second quarter of the Wolves AAA quarterfinal game.
COLUMBUS -- Before every game, Buford offensive lineman Josh Cardiello tells head coach Jess Simpson to run the ball to the left side of the line.
Caridello, a University of Georgia commitment, reminded Simpson of that at halftime of Friday's game against Carver-Columbus.
"He wanted it. Josh wanted the ball run behind him and we fed it," Simpson said.
Behind Cardiello and guard Nick Polino, Buford's offense plowed over Carver in the second half for a 31-7 victory at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state playoffs.
"I told him at halftime and it worked," Cardiello said with a smile as Buford advances to a semifinal game at Cartersville next Friday.
Running back Dontravious Wilson rushed for 134 yards on 27 carries with one touchdown and the Wolves gained 255 yards on the ground.
"I want to thank the O-line. It goes to the O-line," said Wilson, who missed three games with a knee injury before coming back last week. "They opened up a couple of holes for me and I just ran behind my pads and got whatever I could get."
The Buford (10-3) defense forced two fumbles, including one returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Bryson Jordan. Michael Mejia recovered the other fumble with 1:11 left in the game. The Wolves held Carver to it second-fewest points of the season and just 123 yards of offense. Quarterback Terrance McGee was 6 of 12 passing for 52 yards and was the team's leading rusher with 37 yards.
"Defensively, we pitched a shutout and down here against this team, I'm just shocked," Simpson said.
Carver's only score came on an interception returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
It's the third straight win for Buford over Carver (11-2) dating back to last year. The Wolves ended the Tigers' season in last year's Class AA semifinals with a 28-13 win.
Buford trailed 13-7 at halftime in that game and was in a similar situation on Friday when it trailed 7-3 at the half.
"We've been dealing with adversity throughout the whole season," Wilson said. "We kept our head up and played hard the second half."
Buford came out in the second half by running behind Cardiello and Polino to reach the Carver 31. That set up Montgomery VanGorder's 31-yard pass to freshman Isaac Nauta to give Buford its first lead 10-7. It was one of two passes attempted by Buford in the second half. They ran the ball on 30 plays in the second half.
Mikey Bart recorded his second sack of the game on third down to get the ball back for Buford.
The Wolves went back to the same formula behind Cardiello and Polino, running the ball 11 times on a 12-play series. Joshua Thomas scored on a three-yard run to put the Wolves ahead 17-7.
Jordan recovered a Carver fumble to start the fourth quarter and went 30 yards to put Buford ahead 24-7 just 15 seconds after Thomas scored.
The Wolves scored on their third straight possession of the second half with a 6:26 drive finished by Wilson's three-yard TD run.
"We knew we would be able to run, but not like that," Wilson said.
Taylor Mitchell threw the first Buford interception of the year and it was costly. Kiante Walton picked off the pass and went 66 yards for the touchdown to give Carver a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. Mitchell was 4 of 14 passing for 36 yards, while VanGorder was 2 of 3 for 40 yards.
Buford responded with a drive to the Carver 18 and had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Matthew Bonadies to make it a 7-3 game with 3:03 left in the half.
Buford went to the ground game in the second half and it was never a close game again.
"That's the finest second half I've seen us play in a long time," Simpson said.