Buffalo holds off Wirt County
BUFFALO - No way Buffalo was going to squander good field position two straight times.
Bubba Legg burst 35 yards on a fake-punt play midway into the third quarter Friday night and it set up a touchdown that gave the host Bison just enough cushion as it held on for a 23-21 revenge victory over Wirt County in a matchup of Class A playoff contenders.
"We needed that one,'' said Buffalo coach Mike Sawyer. "A big win here in about the middle of the season. That helps us a lot because we've got a few tough games left, and we need every one we can get.''
Buffalo, which normally rides the efforts of all-state quarterback Levi Jordan, leaned on its defense and some timely offensive plays much of the way. Jordan did throw for one TD and booted a 36-yard field goal, but finished just 8 of 17 passing for 115 yards.
Wirt County (4-2), tied for eighth in the Class A playoff ratings, certainly made it interesting at the end. Trailing 23-14 with just over two minutes left, the Tigers drove 96 yards for a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining, but Bison lineman Lucas Jividen recovered the ensuing onside kick to ice it.
No. 12 Buffalo (5-1) led at halftime 16-14 and looked like it might break the game open when Wirt failed on a fake-punt pass at its own 46, giving the Bison great field position to start the third quarter.
Only the Bison went three-and-out and booted it right back. Wirt didn't do much with the ball, and its ensuing punt was shanked out of bounds after going just 14 yards to its own 43. Again, Buffalo looked ready to waste another opportunity when it lined up to punt the ball away on fourth-and-8 from the Tigers 41.
But this time the snap went to Legg at an upback position and he rambled 35 yards to the 6. On the next play, Jordan Tucker took a sweep to the end zone to make it 23-14.
"That's the first time we ran it all year,'' Legg said of the fake punt. "It really worked, but I don't look for us to run it too much any more because I have a feeling [opponents] are going to be concentrating on it. But I'm glad we ran it, and it sort of broke us over, got us more fired up than we would have if it didn't work.''
Sawyer said assistant coach Jimmy Tribble suggested the fake punt.
"The time before when we punted, we wanted field position,'' Sawyer said. "Coach Tribble saw that it was open, and the next time we went with it and it worked for us. We work on our special teams every day in practice and we take a lot of pride in them. If we didn't work on it, we probably wouldn't have done it. We have confidence in them.''
Buffalo was content to keep it conservative the rest of the night, punting nine times in all, playing defense and getting after Wirt sophomore quarterback Josh Trembly.
Trembly completed just 11 of 32 passes, but had some big connections and wound up with 202 yards in the air and ran for two scores. He was picked off three times (twice by Jordan and once by Isaiah Robinson) and sacked five times.
"They were bringing a lot of pressure, a lot of heat,'' said Wirt County coach Jason Hickman, "and we just didn't handle that very well tonight. We're playing a sophomore, a first-year starter, and they've got a fourth-year senior [in Jordan]. Sometimes it shows, but [Trembly] competes. He's a great kid and obviously he keeps fighting even though he makes mistakes. With 50 seconds left, we had a chance and that's all you can ask for.
"A few things didn't go our way. The thing that sticks out in my mind the most was the onside kick. We almost got it. There were so many things we almost did right, but we killed ourselves with penalties in the first half. We were moving the ball pretty well, then we'd get called for hands to the face - little things that just aggravate you to death. But when you're playing a great team like Buffalo, you can't have things go against you, and a good many of those did tonight.''
Buffalo gained, lost and regained the lead in the first half.
The Bison took the opening kickoff and moved 60 yards in six plays, with Jordan hitting Robinson with a 21-yard scoring pass.
The Tigers matched that with a 64-yard drive, including two Trembly completions of 30 and 24 yards. Trembly topped it off with a 2-yard TD run to tie it at 7.
Buffalo then gift-wrapped Wirt's second score, fumbling the ball away at its own 22 on the next snap from scrimmage. The Tiger picked up a first down at the 9, but were penalized back to the 24. From there on third-and-goal, Trembly found John Stephens streaking down the middle of the field by himself for a connection and a TD.
In the final 5:43 before halftime, the Bison bunched nine points on a 29-yard TD run by Legg and a 36-yard field goal by Jordan with seven seconds left.
Legg led all ball-carriers with 81 yards on 10 attempts. Jacob Linville had 12 carries for 70 yards for Wirt.
Wirt shaded Buffalo in a battle of 5-0 teams last year 33-29 on a fourth-down 1-yard scoring run by Dalton Brindo with 40 seconds remaining in the game.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.