Different ingredients yielded the same result at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
In a rematch of last year's Class AA semifinals, Carver High took a slim halftime lead into the locker room, but, like last year, was unable to hang on. Unable to move the ball against a stingy Buford defense and unable to slow down a bruising running game, the Tigers (11-2) lost 31-7 in the Georgia High School Association Class AAA quarterfinals to end their season.
With its win, Buford (10-3) advances to its sixth consecutive semifinals, where it will face Cartersville.
"They reload," Carver coach Dell McGee said after the game. "What they do, they do well. There's only going to be one happy team at the end of the game."
Carver took an early lead in the game when defensive back Kiante Walton intercepted a pass from Buford quarterback Taylor Mitchell and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. It was the first interception thrown by a Buford quarterback all season.
Buford followed with an impressive drive, but again the Tigers defense stood tall, forcing a 35-yard field goal by Matthew Bonadies and taking a 7-3 lead into the break.
Despite the lead, though, Carver had amassed only 61 total yards in the half, 21 of which came on the ground on 14 carries.
When the Tigers were unable to improve on that output in the second half, Buford took advantage.
The Wolves punched in three touchdowns on offense and returned a fumble for a touchdown, scoring 28 points and shutting the Tigers out.
"Being behind at the half and being able to play lights out in the second half like we did, that's just incredible," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "That team grew up in the second half. They've grown up all season. (Carver's) just a great team, and this is a tough place to play. To shut them out in the second half--I just can't say enough about our kids."
McGee said that his team's inability to get any movement up front against Buford's tough defense was the difference in the game.
"We just couldn't get much movement on offense," McGee said. "That's a testament to (Buford). They did a great job."
With Carver's offense silenced in the second half, the
Wolves relied on running back Dontravious Wilson, who was questionable coming into the game due to a knee injury that has plagued him for weeks. Wilson answered the call, though, carrying 27 times for 128 yards and a score.
"Coach asked me if I was ready to carry the load this week, and I just said, 'Give me the ball,'" said Wilson, who is committed to play at Western Kentucky. "The line made a lot of holes for me, and I was able to take advantage."
All Wilson was missing was a touchdown. After Buford had already scored three times in the second half, however, Wilson tacked on a 3-yard touchdown run with just under three minutes remaining in the game to up the Wolves lead to 31-7.
"He just wore on us," McGee said of Wilson. "They were able to control the clock."
Despite the loss, McGee said he was proud of his team's improvement this season from Day 1 to Friday and that he thought there was a bright future for the returning players.
"I'm proud of our effort," he said. "We've got to get bigger, faster and strong in the offseason. And the coaches have to grow, too. We've just got to get better."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Friday at Memorial Stadium
Buford 0 3 14 14--31
Carver 0 7 0 0-- 7
C--Walton 68 interception return (Lewis kick), 8:30
B--Bonadies 35 field goal, 3:03
B--Isaac Nauta 31 pass from Montgomery VanGorder (Bonadies), 8:22
B--Joshua Thomas 3 run (Bonadies), :1
B--Bryson Jordan 32 fumble return (Bonadies), 11:45
B--Dontravious Wilson 3 run (Bonadies), 2:59
Records: Buford, 10-3; Carver, 11-2. Next: Buford, vs. Cartersville in Class AAA semifinals; Carver, season over.