BUFORD — In a game billed one of the biggest matchups in the state, Buford imposed its will on Dacula.
The second-ranked Wolves held the No. 4 offense in Class 6A to a lowly 191 total yards of offense en route to an impressive 35-0 shutout win over No. 6-ranked Dacula and the Region 8-6A title -- 30th overall -- on Friday at Tom Riden Stadium.
It was a statement win by Buford (8-1, 6-0 Region 8-6A) in its final regular-season home game and a small taste of redemption after losing last year’s Region 8-5A title game against Clarke Central.
“Last year, we slipped up against Clarke Central in our 10th game, and this year, we finally finish it out with that region championship of which we’ve been working for all year,” senior offensive lineman Caleb Archer said. “Which was our redemption to get back at that because last year we slipped up on that and missed that opportunity.”
It also was a clarifying moment for Buford coach Bryant Appling and a chance for him to take a deep breath after a long and tumultuous COVID-19 regular season.
“I’m feeling really good right now,” he said. “I can’t express how proud I am of these kids. They were locked in all week long. They remember what happened a year ago in the region championship game, and we didn’t play very well. So, they made a point to be a year better and to really finish the deal off this year and make a statement in our first year in this region.”
Buford took no prisoners on defense, holding a team that averages close to 400 yards of offense, with more than half of those yards on the ground, to just 63 rushing yards.
Dacula (6-3, 5-1 Region 8-6A) junior running back Kyle Efford had just 36 yards on eight carries. A week ago, the Power 5 athlete rushed for more than 240 yards against Central Gwinnett.
“It wasn’t easy sledding the whole time,” Appling said. “Dacula is a great team. We got some guys behind them on some passes. They are a running team just like us, so we challenged our kids to stop the run, and I think they did a great job of that tonight.”
The Wolves also ravaged the Falcons passing game, holding Falcon quarterback Blaine Jenkins to 128 yards on a 10 of 28 performance and three interceptions.
Georgia Tech-commit Kaleb Edwards led the receiving corps with four catches for 84 yards.
Buford, however, rolled up 414 total yards in a uniquely balanced attack -- 200 passing and 214 rushing -- while jumping up 21-0 in the first quarter.
"We got out on them early," Archer said. "Once we got that, we were just able to control the pace of the game and control the way we wanted to play."
Gabe Ervin Jr led the Wolves’ ground game with eight carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 49 yards and a score.
And two of his touchdowns came in the opening quarter.
The Wolves opened the game with a massive kickoff return down to the Falcon 32-yard line, and a few plays later, Ervin darted in for the first of his two scores in the opening quarter.
Buford quarterback Dylan Wittke, who got the start, found Ervin, who had leaked out of the backfield on a 27-yard strike with 5:25 left in the first quarter. The score pushed the Wolves to 14-0. Wittke was 8 of 11 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
Later in the quarter, Ashton Daniels (1 of 3 for 46 yards passing and a touchdown) checked in at quarterback and tossed a beautiful touchdown pass to Isaiah Bond down the seam to give the Wolves a 21-0 lead after the Alejandro Matta extra point.
Dacula's defense didn't stop the Wolves' potent offense until the 9:55 mark in the second quarter, forcing them to punt for the first time.
But it didn't matter at that point. The damage was done and the Wolves kept pouring it on.
This time on special teams as the Wolves lined up to punt the ball from the Falcons' 44-yard line but had other plans. Eli Parks, who finished with 70 yards rushing, took the snap and dashed 32 yards to the Dacula 12-yard line.
The fake punt converted the fourth down and a play later, Wittke tossed it toward a diving Jake Pope in the corner of the end zone for the Wolves' fourth score of the half and a 28-0 halftime lead.
Ervin's 79-yard touchdown run with 9:08 to go in the third quarter added the exclamation mark on the dominating win and also another clip to the highlight reel.
The Wolves will be the No. 1 seed in the Class 6A playoffs and will host Douglas County, Region 5-6A No. 4 seed, on Friday, Nov. 27. Game time TBD.
"It's a big deal," Appling said. "Class 6A is a different animal and anybody can beat you on any given night. You have no clue who you're going to play the next week and every team is good enough to beat you. So, you've got to take it one day at a time.