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The atmosphere at Tom Riden Stadium was electric Friday evening, Sept. 30, as the defending Class AAAAAA Buford Wolves hosted the defending Class AAAAAAA Collins Hill Eagles. Thanks to a stellar performance from Buford’s defense, Buford was able to claim a 23-3 victory against Collins Hill in both teams’ Region 8-AAAAAAA opener, which was televised nationally on ESPN2.

The Wolves opened scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run by senior Justice Haynes that came as a result of a drive where Haynes carried six times for 61 yards. Buford (6-0, 1-0) went up 7-0 with 8:40 remaining in the first quarter.

Collins Hill (2-4, 0-1) did its best to answer back, going on a drive of its own. Eagles quarterback Mikey Sheehan completed two passes of 43 and 11 yards, which put Collins Hill in the red zone. However, on third down, Buford’s Eddrick Houston would sack Sheehan, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Isaac Bonacci. 

Buford would score once more in the first half on a 31-yard field goal by Mario Ventura after the Wolves’ drive stalled. The Wolves went up 10-3 with 5:16 to go in the first half. 

The Eagles got within striking distance late in the second quarter making it to the Wolves’ 29-yard line. That is when Buford’s defense forced Collins Hill back to midfield after Sheehan was sacked multiple times courtesy of junior Eddrick Houston and sophomore Jadon Perlotte. The Eagles were then forced to punt the ball away.

Buford’s offense struggled to use its rushing attack against Collins Hill’s defense in the first half. 

“They (Collins Hill) did a couple of things to us on defense that were a little different,” Buford head coach Bryant Appling said. “They ran some screens. We had to get that coached up and they didn’t really come back to it which I thought they would. They tried one and we did a good job on it so I think that’s why they didn’t do it.”

Coming back from halftime, both sides found it hard to gain momentum as each team’s defenses held strong. 

Buford’s defense was the first to strike in the second half when sophomore Cannon Goldin picked off Sheehan in Collins Hill territory late in the third quarter.

With a new quarterback at the helm, the Wolves would advance down the field thanks to passes of 8 and 32 yards to Sam Harkness and Tyshun White from junior Tristan Gabrels. This allowed Buford the momentum needed for Gabrels to run into the end zone from a yard out three plays later adding to Buford’s lead. The Wolves would lead the Eagles 17-3 going into the fourth quarter.

Haynes, an Alabama commit, added his second touchdown of the night when he rushed for 10 yards for the score early in the fourth quarter. The touchdown was the result of a drive that included a 45-yard pass from Gabrels to junior KJ Bolden. Ventura would miss the extra point, making the score 23-3. Haynes led Buford’s rushing attack, compiling 130 yards against Collins Hill.

When asked what turned things around for the Wolves and the adjustments they had to make to counter the Eagles, Bryant said, “We blocked some things a little differently on offense and we threw the ball a little bit better in the second half. That was the difference (between the first and second halves).” 

Buford’s defense was the true star of the game as the defense had four sacks in the first half alone and only allowed Collins Hill 95 yards total in the half. The Eagles’ rushing game in the first half was -7 yards thanks to the Wolves’ defense. Buford then got an interception out of its defense in the second half.

Buford is off next Friday night and will return for Homecoming on Friday, Oct. 14, when the Wolves host Mill Creek. 

FEATURED PHOTO: Justice Haynes shakes off a Collins Hill defender during Buford’s 23-2 victory over the Eagles at Tom Riden Stadium on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. Photo by Alicia Payne.

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