BUFORD, GEORGIA — Buford’s quest for four straight state championships is over.
In one of the biggest upsets of the season, the Walton Raiders used a huge second half to stun Buford 42-35 and end the Wolves’ season in the second round of the AAAAAAA state playoffs.
The Raiders now travel to Carrollton in the quarterfinals next week.
Although Walton head coach Daniel Brunner came into the game as a strong underdog, he said his team believed they were good enough to win.
“We don’t doubt ourselves,” said Brunner. “We believe in each other and at the end of the day we can play with anyone in the state. We showed up and made a great game.”
Raiders quarterback Jeremey Hecklinski shone under the lights, throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns. The junior also ran in one for a score to end his night with five total touchdowns.
“(Hecklinski) is the money man,” Brunner said. “The boy turns up every time we need him for a play and they didn’t have an answer for him.”
As for Wolves, it’s their first loss in the second round of the playoffs since 1999 and marks head coach Bryant Appling’s first playoff loss after winning a state championship in each of his first three years.
“I’ve been here a long time and I’m blessed to say we’ve gained more than we’ve lost from this,” Appling said. “In the end it’s football. It’s hard to do what we’ve been doing for the last few years. I think we’ve kind of made it look easy for the past two years, and everyone looks like it’s meant to be. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot way too many times, but hats off to Walton. They did the pieces they had to do.”
Buford led Walton 21-13 with less than five minutes in the third quarter, but after a 1-yard touchdown run from Hecklinski and a subsequent two-point conversion that tied the game, it was the start of an offensive clinic for the Raiders.
Hecklinski gave the Raiders a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter when the junior hit a 10-yard score with Wyatt Sonderman. The touchdown was set up by a 79-yard catch-and-run by Hecklinski to Hunter Teal after starting the drive from her own 9-yard line.
The Raiders then tried an onside kick and recovered it in midfield. This led to another touchdown from Walton, this time on a 5-yard run by Makari Bodiford.
That gave Walton a 35-21 lead with 10:19 in the fourth quarter.
Looking for an answer, Buford got one. Senior running back Justice Haynes hit on an 18-yard touchdown run to halve the Walton lead to 35-28.
Walton wasted no time, however, extending his lead back to 14 points after a fourth down conversion led to a 44-yard touchdown pass from Hecklinksi to Ayden Jackson 6:17 in the fourth quarter.
14 points back, Buford responded with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Wittke to Tyshun White with 56 seconds left, but couldn’t recover an onside kick that allowed Walton to secure the win.
The two teams traded blows in the first half.
Walton came on the board first with Hecklinksi’s first touchdown pass, a 7-yard thump to Bodiford with 8:16 left. A missed extra point kept the lead at 6:0.
Buford responded with a 55-yard touchdown run from Haynes and the point after that gave the Wolves a 7-6 advantage.
Wolves extended their lead after Haynes caught a touchdown pass from Wittke. The hosts took the lead 14:6, 3:16 before half-time.
But the Raiders responded with a quick touchdown drive, scoring with just seven seconds left on the clock.
Buford went into half-time with a score of just under 14:13.
Early in the third quarter, the Wolves took a 21-13 lead when Wittke found Sam Harkness for a 2-yard score. That was the last time Wolves took the lead for the rest of the game.
Haynes ended his nighttime and high school career with a final 100-yard rushing performance. Haynes rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns while also catching three passes for 38 yards and a score.