Sunday April 14th, 2024 9:45AM

Football playoffs: Grayson holds off Buford in defensive slugfest

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

GRAYSON, Ga. — It was not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

The defensive slugfest between Buford and Grayson in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoffs on Friday night produced almost as many injury stoppages as points.

However, it was a 4th-and-8 conversion by Grayson that sparked a 3-yard touchdown run by Amari Alston with just 3:25 left that gave the Rams a hard-fought 19-14 victory over the Wolves.

The Grayson defense then finished off the Buford offense, sacking Dylan Raiola on the Wolves’ final two plays -- their 6th and 7th sacks of the game -- to seal the win. Those were part of 10 TFL for the Rams.

The Grayson defense held Raiola and the Buford offense to just 131 yards passing and minus-15 yards rushing for the game. They also forced three huge first half fumbles.

The Buford defense was just as nasty. The Wolves had 15 TFL and sacked Grayson quarterback JD Davis 10 times. Davis managed to throw for 177 yards, but 106 of that came on two huge pass plays that led to points. The Rams had minus-3 yards rushing for the game.

“It’s a team effort. We didn’t make enough plays as a team to win the game,” Buford coach Bryant Appling said. "I put it on me that I didn't have us prepared the way we needed to be."

After trailing for most of the game, Buford (11-2) found some offensive rhythm to start the third quarter driving for what turned out to be a missed field goal on their first drive and then getting a 5-yard touchdown run from Kobi Blackwell to reclaim a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter.

Blackwell's touchdown run was set up by three straight Raiola completions of 10 yards to Cooper Berry, 25 yards to Tyshun White, and 17 yards to Jordan Allen.

After the defenses locked down the offenses from there, it looked like the Wolves were one play from perhaps sealing a trip to the semifinals, forcing the Rams into a 3rd-and-22 at their own 38 with just over four minutes left.

But Davis connected with Aiden Taylor for 14 yards and Alex Sanchez for 8 on fourth down to keep the drive alive. The back-breaker for Buford came a play later when a busted coverage left Sanchez wide open for a 37-yard strike to the Buford 3, setting up Alston’s game-winner.

“When things don’t go your way you start questioning a lot of little things. We didn’t play up to our potential tonight,” Appling said. “We left a lot of good ball out there. I hate that it ended this way but it is what it is. We just got to move on, get better, and grow up a little bit.”

The first half was just as rough as the second for both offenses as the defenses absolutely dominated.

The Rams produced three sacks of Raiola and forced a trio of Buford fumbles they turned into 10 points. They held the Wolves to minus-9 yards rushing on 13 carries on the strength of the sacks. Raiola did go 6-of-7 passing for 58 yards but they managed just three first downs, one coming on a fake punt.

The Wolves sacked Davis four times and held Grayson to just 18 yards rushing on 16 carries. Davis also was just 4-of-13 passing. 

However, the Buford turnovers were more than costly. Each snuffed out possible drives.

The first led to a 19-yard scramble from Davis and then a 15-yard TD pass from Davis to Eathen Cantres on the next play for a 10-7 lead. The third led to a 28-yard field goal from Harun Cufuovic with just 24 seconds left in the half for a 13-7 lead.

The only real drive of the half for either team came on the Rams’ opening possession, which finished with a 32-yard yard field goal from Cufurovic.

Buford’s only points of the half came on a 95-yard kickoff return for a TD by KJ Bolden following the first Cufurovic field goal for a 7-3 lead.

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