By Michael Alpert
For the AJC
Buford had five turnovers, but it couldn’t stop visiting Gainesville from winning for the first time in the teams’ five meetings, 19-15.
Joshua Thomas made one of the Wolves’ four interceptions and recovered a fumble, but Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson’s three touchdown passes proved Gainesville’s resilience and avenged Buford’s 49-0 victory on the same field a year ago.
The Region 8-AAAAA Red Elephants (1-1) spotted the Region 7-AAA Wolves a touchdown, and despite leading 12-7 at halftime, had to overcome a 15-12 deficit in the fourth quarter.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said his team’s first win this season season, following its season-opening 32-30 loss to West Forsyth, makes next week’s region opener at Winder-Barrow easier to focus on.
“Getting up on Saturday morning after a loss is not fun,” he said. “(Playing Buford) is a real good measuring stick for us. It’s early season, and we’re still finding things out about our ball club.”
Buford led 15-12 on Tre Neal’s 53-yard scoring pass from Taylor Mitchell with 9:20 to play, but Keyontra Harrison’s 65-yard return of the Wolves’ ensuring kickoff put the Elephants in business at Buford’s 34-yard line with 9:05 left. Five plays later, Jay Gaudlock had the winning 21-yard touchdown catch, adding to his 6-yard scoring reception in the second quarter.
Watson finished with 186 yards and the three scores through the air, as well as ran for 109 yards. Rodney Lackey hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Buford sputtered in the first half, unable to do much with its first two interceptions and the fumble recovery. After their first possession ended on a missed 47-yard field goal attempt, the Wolves led 7-0 when Zavior Hoxie burst a yard into the end zone with 1:16 left in the first quarter. That advantage held until Watson passed six yards to Gaudlock, and a missed extra-point kick was all that kept the Wolves in front 7-6.
Gainesville led 12-7 at halftime, thanks to Caleb Hayman’s 67-yard reception over the middle to Buford’s 8 and Lackey catching a pass tipped by a Buford defender three plays later in the back of the end zone. That capped an 87-yard Gainesville drive in just six plays.
Buford coach Jess Simpson, whose team failed to back its 14-3 season-opening win over Elbert County, said it’s been a challenge with only one returning starter on offense and one on defense.
“(We’re trying) to find new faces to get the job done,” he said. “We’re still a young team in a lot of ways.”
GAINESVILLE 19, BUFORD 15
Gainesville: 0 12 0 7 – 19
Buford: 7 0 0 8 – 15
B — Zavior Hoxie 1 run (David Petroni kick)
G — Jay Gaudlock 6 pass from Deshaun Watson (kick failed)
G — Rodney Lackey 8 pass form Watson (run failed)
B — Tre Neal 53 pass from Taylor Mitchell (Mikey Bart pass from Mitchell)
G — Gaudlock 21 pass from Watson (Gage Turner kick)