It was the tale of two different teams for Buford on Friday night, Sept. 16, at Tom Riden Stadium. The Wolves did not resemble the same team they had been all season prior to their matchup with the 2021 Class AAA state runner-up, Carver (Atlanta). Buford (4-0) went into halftime trailing the Panthers, but the Wolves would come out of the locker room looking like themselves. They would end the game with a 44-16 win over Carver (3-1) to remain undefeated.
Buford opened the scoring in the first quarter after the Wolves pushed 71 yards down the field and quarterback Dylan Wittke connected with KJ Bolden for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Kicker JD Gregory got the extra point making it 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
The Wolves once again were in scoring position, but this time within field goal range, however, the field goal attempt failed.
Carver responded with a 39-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter. The Panthers added on a two-point conversion, putting them up 8-7.
Alabama commit Justice Haynes would score his first touchdown of the night late in the second quarter when he returned a 66-yard pass from Wittke. Buford went for a two-point conversion that was successful thanks to Eli McElwaney, making it 15-8 in favor of the Wolves.
The Panthers would stun the crowd at Tom Riden Stadium when on the next kickoff, they returned it 94 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good, putting Carver up 16-15 going into halftime.
“The defense was playing pretty good other than one play. The offense … we sputtered a couple of times just by getting penalties and turning the ball over,” Buford head coach Bryant Appling said of his team’s first-half performance.
Buford would return to the field after halftime looking like a whole new team. The Wolves would score 28 unanswered points in the second-half.
Haynes got his second touchdown of the night early in the third quarter on a 60-yard run. Bryson Banks caught a pass from Wittke to get the two-point conversion. Justin Baker scored next for Buford on a 7-yard touchdown run following a 72-yard drive down the field. Showing off his skills, Haynes dodged and weaved his way down the field 53 yards to score his third touchdown of the night. Buford added its final score of the night on a short run into the end zone by Ryan McKinnis early in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves’ defense held strong throughout the second-half not giving Carver any room to maneuver. The Panthers had several players leave the field with injuries in the half as well, further hurting their chances.
After the game, while Buford may have won, Appling was not happy with his team’s overall performance. He was able to rally his team after a disappointing first-half that was riddled with costly penalties.
“We overcame those penalties,” Appling said. “I just have to get some 15 to 18 year olds to understand that when I tell them something to believe me because I watch way more film than you. I don’t care what your parents or your Twitter feed or DMs say. They listen to all of that and they don’t listen to us, which scares me. They underestimated their opponent.”
Appling hopes his players use this game as a learning lesson to stop worrying about outside distractions and listen to their coaches and get penalties under control.
“We haven’t played a complete game all year long, which is scary,” Appling said. “Scary good and scary bad. Hopefully, we can play a complete game in the next couple of weeks and figure out who we really are so we can get better.”
The Wolves travel to play Marietta next Friday night, Sept. 23, for a non-region game. Buford will begin region competition Friday, Sept. 30, against defending Class AAAAAAA Collins Hill at home.
FEATURED PHOTO: Buford’s Justice Haynes dodges Carver’s defenders on his way to his first of three touchdowns of the night Friday, Sept. 16, at Tom Riden Stadium. Photo by Alicia Payne.