BY O.J. EARLY
The West Greene Buffaloes knew what a win would mean when they took the field Friday night against the Claiborne Bulldogs: a chance to revive a slow season and keep the all-important playoff hopes alive.
The Buffs proved up to the challenge, turning in perhaps their best performance of the year, and roughed up the visiting Bulldogs 31-12.
The win improves West Greene to 3-5 on the year, and 1-3 in the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference. The loss drops the Bulldogs to 0-3, 2-5 on the year.
"I'm proud of our kids and what they accomplished tonight," said West Greene head coach Joe Case, as his team celebrated on the field. "We played like we are capable of playing."
The Buffs began the contest on a strong defensive note, holding the Bulldogs to a quick three and out.
West Greene took over and put together a time-consuming 10-play drive that saw the Buffs go nearly the length of the field. The drive ended with sophomore running back Johnthan Padgett plowing into the endzone from five yards out. The PAT was good, putting West Greene out front 7-0 with 5:23 to play in the first quarter.
The Buff defense again stood strong, forcing the Bulldogs to punt after five plays. The second drive of the game proved much less fruitful for the Buffs, as West Greene's running backs were bottled up in the backfield. West Greene punted the ball away after three plays.
But West Greene's defense wasted little time in giving the ball back to the offense, as the Buff's Tyler Laws picked off a pass in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
To start the second quarter, West Greene did what they pride themselves on - pounding the football. After seven straight runs, the drive stalled and Case and company were presented with a 4-and-7 situation on the Claiborne 20-yard line. Case turned to his kicker, Brock Shelton, and the freshman booted the 30-yard kick straight through the uprights to give West Greene a 10-0 lead with 9:18 to go in the first half.
West Greene's defense again showed strength, stopping the Bulldogs in three plays. The defensive stand was highlighted by senior Jaylnn Kesterson bringing down Joseph Ledford for a five yard loss.
The Buffs couldn't get it going on the drive, and were forced to punt the ball after going three and out. But West Greene was delivered a give gift the Bulldogs muffed the punt, and Buff Taran Hurst fell on the loose pigskin.
Four straight runs by Nathan Morgan, who finished the night with 120 yards on 27 carries, set the Buffs up for first and goal on the Bulldog five yard line. Senior Josh Thacker fired through the line and scored the Buffs second touchdown of the night. The PAT was good, extending West Greene's lead to 17-0 with 4:11 left in the opening half.
Claiborne, however, would not be shutout. On the second play of the drive, Ricky Hatfield galloped 61 yards into the endzone. The Buffs blocked the PAT, making the score 17-6 with 3:53 left in the second quarter. The Buffs chose to run the football for the remaining minutes of the half, and went to the locker room leading 17-6.
West Greene began the second half in just the opposite way in which they started, punting the ball away after three plays. The Bulldogs looked more determined when they took over on their own 23 yard line, picking up two first downs on hard Hatfield runs. But with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, the Buff defense was faced with a fourth-and-five situation. West Greene stood strong, stopping the Bulldogs a yard shy of picking up the first.
The two teams went on to trade possessions for most of the third quarter. Morgan broke the dry spell with a 23 yard burst up the middle, scoring a touchdown. Shelton's PAT gave the Buffs a 24-6 lead with 2:35 to play in the third.
Claiborne showed promise on their next drive, picking up two first downs. But a leaping Justin Pinkston picked off a Bulldog pass, killing the drive with 11:10 to play in the final quarter. The Buffs would go on to bottle up the Bulldog offense again, forcing a punt. West Greene added to Claiborne's frustration, as Thacker blocked the punt and senior Caleb Julian picked up the loose ball and ran more than 20 yards, setting the Buffs up for a first and goal situation. Freshman Devin Davis scored two plays later. The PAT made the new score 31-6 with 5:36 to play. Claiborne's Ledford found the endzone with 2:22 left to play. The Buffs stopped the Bulldogs on a two-point conversion, and West Greene played keep away for the rest of the game, taking the 31-12 victory.
West Greene is home next week, hosting the South Greene Rebels in the "Battle for the Milk Can."