Big 1st quarter leads Buford to victory
BUFORD — The two winningest programs in the state were in line to clash during the 6-AAAAAA semifinals Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium. Buford winners of 12 state titles including 11 in the 2000s and Valdosta with 24 but only one since 1998 met with a record 36 titles between the two schools.
Buford won a 17-14 title last season in overtime against Warner Robins while Valdosta last won in 2016. The Wolves jumped on top of the Wildcats 7-0 with just 19 seconds gone in the game. Buford scored 21 points in the first period and cruised to a 45 to 26 victory and will move on to face Lee County on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. at Georgia State Stadium.
Buford took the opening kickoff as Clinkscales brought the ball to the 24-yard line. On the first play Dylan Wittke found Jake Pope on a slant play for a 76-yard touchdown. Alejandro Mata got the PAT for a 7-0 lead. Valdosta got the ensuing kickoff but Buford linebacker Tommy Beuglas intercepted an Amari Jones pass and ran it 70 yards for a touchdown. Mata made the PAT for a 14-0 lead with 8:56 left in the first period. Buford then stopped the Wildcats on 4th-and-1 at the 29-yard line and after a penalty, Victor Venn went 33 yards to pay dirt for a 21-0 lead with 6:30 left in the period.
In the second quarter, the Wolves picked up another score when Venn scored from 13 yards out. Again Mata connected to make it 28-0. Mata added a 34-yard field goal with just over a minute in the half to give Buford a 31-0 halftime lead.
Valdosta came out in the second half as transfer quarterback Jones, from head coach Russ Probst’s former team the Colquitt County Packers, fired a 52-yard touchdown to another Colquitt transfer Taj Sherman. Angel Martinez connected to cut the lead to 31-7. Buford answered back as Venn had the Wildcats’ number and broke off a 48-yard run down to the 6-yard line and on the next play scored his third touchdown and gave the Wolves a 38-7 lead. Valdosta once again answered with a touchdown to cut the lead to 38-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
Buford opened the 4th quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run from Gabe Ervin, Jr. Mata made good the PAT to bring the score to 45-14. Valdosta started gaining momentum and would rattle off to two touchdowns. The extra points failed to make the final score Buford 45 Valdosta 26.
Buford’s running game was led by Venn with 142 yards rushing on 14 carries and 3 touchdowns while Ervin finished with 89 yards rushing for the game on 20 carries and a touchdown.
Wittke was 2-for-3 passing for 86 yards and Ashton Daniels was 3-for-8 for 31 yards for Buford. Valdosta’s Jones was 16-for-26 passing for 301 yards.
“We just got to learn to play a full game 48 minutes,” said head coach Brian Appling. That was the first time since the first game against North Cobb that Buford hasn’t won by more than four touchdowns. Buford is now 12-1 while Valdosta ends the year 7-5 in Probst’s first year at Valdosta. Appling is 26-2 in two years at the helm of the Wolves.
Buford will take on Lee County in the GHSA Class AAAAAA State Finals on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m at Center Parc Stadium at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Tickets can be purchased at GoFan.co for $20.