Walton 42, Buford 35

The scene on the field at Tom Riden Stadium wasn’t like one often seen at Buford High School.

There was senior Braylen Stokes planting a Walton High School flag on the 50-yard line, then leading a group of students on a victory lap up and down the field. Defensive end Quin Bannon was posing on the sideline after pounding his chest and screaming into the cold dark sky.

Meanwhile the Buford guys in green didn’t really know what to do. Most were standing in stunned silence, some hugging their parents or girlfriends, another staring at the marker by the small scoreboard that details the 14 state championships.

The emotion for both sides was easy to comprehend. No. 6-ranked Walton had made the drive from Cobb County and knocked off No. 1 Buford 42-35 in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.

The loss ended Buford’s quest for a fourth straight championship.

“We don’t doubt ourselves. We believe in each other and at the end of the day we can play with anybody in the state,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “We showed up and played a great game.”

Walton quarterback Jeremy Hecklinski threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Raiders (10-2), who advance to play at Carrollton in the quarterfinal round. Makari Bodiford caught a pair of touchdown passes and ran for a score.

“(Hecklinski) is the money man,” Brunner said. “The boy shows up every time we need him to make a play and they had no answer for him.”

Buford (11-1) was led by tailback Justice Haynes, who rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 38 yards and one touchdown.

“I’ve been here for a long time and I’m blessed to say that we’ve won more of these than we’ve lost,” Buford coach Bryant Appling said. “In the end it’s football. It’s hard to do what we’ve done the last couple years. I guess we kind of made it look easy the last two years and everybody’s looking like it’s supposed to be like that. We shot ourselves in the foot way too many times but hat’s off to Walton. They made the plays they had to make.”

The turnaround started late in the third period when the Raiders tied the game 21-21 with a 10-play drive capped by Hecklinski’s 1-yard sneak. He thew a two-point conversion pass to Hunter Teal to even the score.

After forcing a Buford punt, the Raiders took the lead. Hecklinski completed a third-and-7 pass at his own 9 to Teal, who turned it into a 79-yard gain. Two plays later Hecklinski threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Sonderman to take a 28-21 lead.

The Raiders were successful on an onside kick, with Tyson McCrary grabbing the loose ball at midfield. Four plays later Bodiford powered his way off the left side for a 5-yard touchdown that gave Walton a 35-21 lead with 10:19 left.

After Buford answered on a 14-yard touchdown pass by Haynes, the Raiders returned the margin to two scores on a gutsy fourth-down call. Hecklinski threw a 44-yard pass to Ayden Jackson, who broke a tackle after the catch and scored.

Buford scored again on a pass from Dylan Wittke to Tyshun White, but Walton recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

“It means so much. I mean they haven’t been beaten in two years,” senior safety Matthew Traynor said. “It means a lot to this team. We’ve been working hard since day one. We are confident about our scheme. We trusted the coaches, we trusted the scheme and we just really came out here and played ball.”

Buford stopped Walton with an interception in the first quarter when Justin Baker picked off Hecklinski. But the Wolves failed to cash in as Haynes was stopped on four runs and Buford turned it over on downs.

The Raiders scored first on a 7-yard pass from Hecklinski to Makari Bodiford with 8:16 left in the half, but missed the extra point and led 6-0.

Buford answered with a quick drive that as sparked by Hayne’s 55-yard run. Haynes scored on a 9-yard screen pass from Witke and led 7-6 on Mario Ventura’s extra point kick.

Buford took the ball back on an interception by Devin Williams with 6:30 left and scored on Haynes’ 29-yard run at 3:16.

The Raiders then worked their way down the field with a series of short throws. They scored on third-and-goal from the 7 when Hecklinski took a high snap, eluded the pass rush and tossed it to Bodiford, who got through a pair of defenders and dove into the end zone with nine seconds left to make it 14-13 at the half.

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar