“I didn’t want to give them any time with the ball,” Appling said. “They found an issue with our defense and I didn’t want to try adjustments. I wanted to give them the least amount of time on the clock as we could.”
Appling was concerned that North Cobb would have too much time to score had he left the field goal stand. The touchdown – and the reduced time on the clock – forced the Warriors to try to move the ball exclusively through the air and their chances ran out when Buford’s Jordan Allen intercepted a pass with seconds remaining.
“We knew we got a good break on the field goal and we were going to punch it in,” said Buford quarterback Dylan Wittke. “Just can’t think of a better game.”
Haynes was the difference maker for the Wolves, who turned the ball over four times. The senior carried 19 times for 191 yards and touchdowns of 41, 49 and 6 yards.
North Cobb was led by quarterback Malachi Singleton. He completed 8 of 18 passes with two interceptions and 99 yards and one touchdown and ran 13 times for 87 yards and one touchdown.
The Warriors trailed 14-0 at halftime but used a Buford-like 17-play drive to score a touchdown on their first possession of the second half. Singleton connected with David Mbadinga, who came out of the backfield to catch a pass in the right flat and run for a 21-yard touchdown.
Buford was in position to answer but turned it over when Wittke overthrew his receiver and North Cobb’s Jordan Lonas came up with the interception.
The Warriors scored quickly to tie the game. A 59-yard keeper by Singleton put North Cobb in business at the 8 and two plays later Singleton ran it in for the tying score.
Buford looked like it was going to run away with the game in the first half. Despite starting in a torrential rainfall, the Wolves scored on their first possession, going 73 yards and scoring on Haynes 41-yard run.
After forcing North Cobb to go three-and-out, the Wolves struck again, this time from 60 yards. On fourth-and-1, Haynes broke outside again for a 49-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Buford had chances to put the game away, but a combination of its own foibles and North Cobb’s tenacity kept the score close.
North Cobb’s Ben Hall fumbled at midfield and Buford’s Bryson Banks recovered. The Wolves drove to the 32 but turned it over on downs.
After another three-and-out, Buford got the ball back at the 47 and drove to the North Cobb 3 before fumbling into the arms of the Warriors’ Charles McCartherens.
North Cobb drove it to the 37 when Singleton had his pass tipped by Banks and intercepted by Jack Damron.
That set up a wacky final two minutes, as there were three turnovers. Wittke was intercepted by North Cobb’s Caleb Jenkins, but the Warriors gave it away on the next play when Ben Mubenga caused a fumble and Bryce Perry-Wright recovered. Buford, with the ball at the 7, gave the ball to Justin Baker, who pushed it to the 1 on second effort but had it taken away by North Cobb’s Phillip Gladney. That’s when North Cobb decided to let the final 1:20 run off the clock and settle for a 14-0 deficit.
“We had five drives we should have converted, we should have scored,” Appling said. “But it’s 7A football. It’s going to be hard. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys. I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud that thye stood up for four quarters and played a good opponent and won.”
Both teams are ranking among the top 100 in national polls. Buford is as high as No. 3 by USA Today and North Cobb as high as No. 23 by CalPreps.