GAINESVILLE — When both Buford and Gainesville played their final games last year, they both left the field as state champions in their respective classifications.
When the two squads clashed on Friday night, each team was once again atop the rankings (Buford in Class AAA and Gainesville in AAAAA), but when the dust had cleared and the fans went home, they left knowing who was the better team.
On the strength of a dominant running game and physical defense, Buford stymied Gainesville’s vaunted offense and ran away with a 38-14 win at City Park Stadium.
Even though the game has no bearing on either team’s region standings and playoff position, the game still held much of the intensity one finds in the postseason.
“This was important to our football family and our town,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. “We had a bad taste in our mouth (after losing to Gainesville last year) and wanted to redeem ourself and I’m so tickled to death for our kids. I don’t know that a lot people thought we could get it done tonight.”
Buford’s offensive line took control early and never let up, opening up huge gaps for the Buford backs to plow through, leading to 374 yards on the ground.
Joshua Thomas led the way for Buford (2-0) with 139 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown.
“We played Buford football for 48 minutes,” Thomas said. “Both our o-lines and d-lines did a great job and we got on top of (Gainesville).”
Thomas Wilson also helped in the running game, scoring two TDs on runs of three and one yards, finishing with 42 yards on nine carries.
Gainvesville (1-1) was led on offense by quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Clemson commit, and he put up decent numbers with 206 yards on 24 of 43 attempts, including one TD and one interception.
But the explosiveness the Red Elephants are known for on offense never materialized as Buford’s defense proved to be too strong and fast.
“They got hot last week against West Forsyth and scored 28 points in three or four minutes,” Simpson said. “I was afraid we were going to have to try and outscore them but the plan came together and it was just our night.”
Buford took the opening kickoff and methodically went 69 yards on seven plays to take an early 7-0 lead, capping it off with an 11-yard TD pass from Taylor Mitchell to Cameron Poole.
The defense then gave Buford its next opportunity to score when Xavier Gantt recovered a fumble on end Gainesville’s first possession.
That led to Matthew Bonadies’ 47-yard field goal, givng the Wolves a 10-0 lead late in the first.
Gainesville would then be forced to punt on a three and out, a series shortened by a sack from Shug Frazier.
Buford then caught a break when Watson’s punt was shanked for just 16 yards, giving the Wolves the ball at the Gainesville 33.
Six plays later, Zavior Hoxie (eight carries, 52 yards) bulled in from three yards out for the 17-0 lead.
Gainesville fought back on its next possession, driving 81 yards on 12 plays. Watson ended the drive when he connected with Jay Gaudlock for a seven-yard TD.
But Buford wasted no time in regaining the momentum, scoring three plays later when Thomas broke loose on a 77-yard TD to put the Wolves back in control at 24-7.
“Once I got open, I got loose and knew I had to score,” Thomas said.
Up 24-7 at the half, Buford tacked on two more scores in the second half on TD runs by Wilson of three and one yards. Gainesville would add on a late TD in the waning minutes when back up quarterback Mikey Gonzalez hooked up with Josh Holderfield on a 26-yard score.
BUFORD 10 14 7 7 - 38
GAINESVILLE 0 7 0 7 - 14
Buford: Cameron Poole 11 pass from Taylor Mitchell (Matthew Bonadies kick) 8:51
Buford: Bondaies 47 FG, 1:30
Buford: Zavior Hoxie 3 run (Bonadies kick) 9:20
Gainesville: Jay Gaudlock 7 pass from Deshaun Watson (Gage Turner kick) 7:04
Buford: Joshua Thomas 77 run (Bonadies kick) 6:02
Buford: Thomas Wilson 3 run (Bonadies kick) 7:33
Buford: Wilson 1 run (Bonadies kick) 10:51
Gainesville: Josh Holderfield 26 pass from Mikey Gonzalez (Turner kick) 1:35
Buford ... Gainesville
First downs 17 17
Rushes-yards 49-374 23-79
Passing yards 67 242
Comp-Att-Int 5-8-0 26-49-1
Fumbles-lost 4-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 9-80 7-55
RUSHING - Buford: Thomas 13-139; Hoxie 8-52; Wilson 9-42; Gantt 5-39; Curry 2-2; Cooper 4-51; Gordon 1-9; VanGorder 3-27; Mangram 1-3; Bryant 1-3; Lott 1-2; Tarleton 1-5. Gainesville: 4-6; Watson 19-73.
PASSING - Buford: VanGorder 2-4-0, 16; Mitchell 3-4-0, 51. Gainesville: Watson 24-43-1, 206; Gonzalez 2-6-0, 36.
RECEIVING - Buford: Nauta 2-40; Poole 1-11; Curry 1-10; Wilson 1-6. Gainesville: Newman 5-54; Lackey 1-14; Dorsey 1-5; Byrd 9-50; Gaudlock 6-66; Lackey 3-27; Holderfield 1-26.