Bode Abraham intercepted a pass and returned it 40 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to put Buffalo ahead for good as the Bison held off previously undefeated Fair Grove 29-22 Friday night.
This was one of three big plays that led to Buffalo’s first victory over Fair Grove since they started playing each other in 2007. Another one was when Jamen Smith electrified the crowd by returning a punt 76 yards to the end zone early in the first quarter. The third one occurred when Smith picked off a Fair Grove pass to preserve the win with 1:51 remaining in the game.
“It was a great atmosphere at Fair Grove,” Bison coach Ed Phillips said, “and both teams had some good and bad plays. Our guys really wanted this one, and they stepped up and got the job done.”
Following the opening kickoff, Fair Grove, 7-1, had an unusual start with a three-and-out, and had to punt. That’s when Jamen Smith caught the ball and outran Fair Grove defenders for six points. Abraham’s PAT kick made the score 7-0 with 9:37 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Eagles again were not able to get a first down, and this time the Bison started from their 25-yard line following a punt. Buffalo primarily kept the ball on the ground the entire game; in fact, the Bison had only three yards passing and 218 rushing.
Buffalo drove 75 yards in 11 plays for a TD, with Jamen Smith running the ball in from the three-yard line. Abraham’s kick made it 14-0 with 2:12 left in the quarter. The drive featured some good running by Smith and Coltin Henderson, plus a nice 13-yard run by Keaton Rackley to give the Bison a first-and-one at the Fair Grove three-yard line.
Fair Grove finally began to move the ball on a third-and-13 play when quarterback Rhett Hill found Elijah Young for a 13-yard pass play to the 47. The Eagles ultimately were forced to punt again, but regained some life when Darin Oplotnik came up with a big play of his own. He intercepted a short Bison pass and returned it to the Buffalo 19. However, the Eagles came up short on a fourth-and-one play at the 10-yard line, and Buffalo took over at its 11.
The Eagles caught another break, however, when a snap on a punt was fumbled, and Fair Grove took over at the Bison 36. On the next play, Hill tossed an aerial to Hale Beckley that covered 36 yards and a TD. Hill passed to Cole Gilpin for the two-point conversion. The score was 14-8 with 3:48 left in the half, and that was the score when intermission arrived.
Well into the third quarter, Buffalo mounted a seven-play, 49-yard drive that was climaxed by a 28-yard run by Rackley. Abraham’s extra point kick gave Buffalo a 21-8 advantage with 5:31 remaining in the third. The drive included a long, incomplete pass in which Fair Grove was cited for defensive holding.
Buffalo’s momentum continued when the Bison recovered an onside kickoff, which gave the visitors a first down at the Fair Grove 45. However, Buffalo was unable to capitalize as Fair Grove’s Bryce Thornton picked off a pass and returned it to the Bison 30. The Eagles again were charged with holding, though, so they ended up starting at mid-field.
On first down, Hill rifled a pass to Young for 13 yards, and on the next play Hill hit Beckley for a gain all the way to the 20. Later, on a fourth-and-three play, Hill connected with Gilpin on a pass play to the Buffalo three-yard line. Hill ran the ball into the end zone himself, and Maicol Newkirk's PAT kick made it 21-15 with 1:25 left in the third.
Turnabout is fair play, and this time on the kickoff the Eagles sneaked an onside kick through the Bison front line, and Fair Grove recovered at the Bison 49. Twelve plays later, Hill looped a pass to Dominick Hoskins for a six-yard touchdown. The PAT kick gave Fair Grove its first lead of the game, 22-21.
Fair Grove tried another onside kick, but this time the Bison recovered at mid-field. A few plays later, though, Buffalo was unable to convert a fourth-and-one play, so Fair Grove took over on its own 30 with 7:29 left on the clock.
On Buffalo’s next possession the Eagles again held on fourth down, but with 2:53 left in the game Abraham performed his heroics, intercepting a pass and returning it 40 yards to the end zone. Henderson ran the two-point conversion for a 29-22 lead.
Fair Grove moved the ball well via air most of the night, and its next possession was no exception as Hill passed to Young for a 29-yard gain to the Bison 38. A pass to Gilpin on the next play netted 14 yards to the 24. On the next play, however, Jamen Smith intercepted a pass and returned it to the 30.
A 16-yard run by Henderson on second down was a big play for the Bison, setting up a first down at the Eagles’ 49-yard line with just 1:36 remaining. From that point Buffalo was able to run out the clock.
Jamen Smith achieved his usual 100-plus yards rushing, carrying the ball 25 times for 114 yards and one touchdown. Henderson had 10 carries for 57 yards, and Rackley was five for 41 and a TD. Bradley Hosiner ran the ball twice for six yards.
On defense, Ethan Smith, who more often than not leads the team in tackles, did so again with 16. Hosiner added 10 tackles including one for a loss, and Rackley had seven tackles - one for a loss. Abraham added seven tackles and an interception, and Derek Smith had seven tackles and a blocked punt. Jamen Smith had five tackles and an interception.
Buffalo, 6-2, will end its regular season Friday night by traveling to Forsyth, 0-8.
“Despite their record, we don’t want to overlook anybody,” Phillips said. “We want to make sure we prepare correctly and keep getting better in every aspect of the game.”
Fair Grove’s regular season is over, so the Eagles will wait this week to find out whether they will still get the top seed in the district tournament despite the loss to Buffalo.