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KERSHAW – Andrew Jackson junior quarterback Kolby Whitley threw five touchdown passes as the Volunteers defeated the Buford Yellow Jackets, 36-20 in opening round action of the Division II Class AA Upper State playoffs.
The 16-point win marked the first home playoff game at AJ since 1996. The victory advances the Vols against arch nemesis Central of Pageland next Friday.
The Volunteers put three quick touchdowns on the scoreboard in an explosive first quarter.
AJ moved 51 yards in just four plays on its opening possession. Whitley connected with Tray King for a 21-yard scoring strike as the Vols drew first blood.
McKenzie Denkins was true on the extra point and AJ led 7-0 with 10:55 left in the first period. The key play of the drive was a 30-yard completion from Whitley to Corley Faulkenberry.
The Vols again only needed four plays to cover 46 yards on their second possession. Whitley’s 19-yard scoring strike to Faulkenberry capped the drive. Denkins again was true on the kick for a 14-0 lead.
Buford responded with an Evan “Buckshot” Flynn 60-yard kickoff return to put the Jackets in business at the AJHS 39. Buford drove 39 yards in three plays, with Flynn covering the last six yards to put BHS on the board. Wade Lambert drilled the kick and AJ led 14-7.
AJ immediately answered with a 44-yard drive, set up by a 42-yard Faulkenberry kickoff return.
Whitley found King with a 35-yard scoring pass in stride across the middle. Denkins’ extra point attempt was blocked by Christian Catledge. With 3:42 left in the first period, AJ led 20-7.
After holding the Jackets on downs at the AJ 33, the Vols put together an 11-play, 62-yard scoring drive. Whitley tossed his fourth TD pass of the night, finding Dustin Eddins from six yards out. Denkins’ PAT upped the lead to 26-7.
A key point in the game came when BHS drove to the AJ three with less than 30 seconds left in the half. On fourth and goal from the three, the AJ defense rose and denied the Jackets.
“We played pretty well in the first half,” said AJ coach David Moore. “Certainly turning Buford back right before the half helped keep the momentum.
“However, we told our players that Buford would keep coming and that the game was far from over,” noted Moore. “We are blessed to hold on against a well-coached, fundamentally sound Buford team.”
Moore was prophetic as Buford mounted a 61-yard scoring drive to start the second half, with Buford quarterback Scotti Moser throwing a 30-yard scoring pass to Garrett Crenshaw.
Lambert’s PAT sliced the lead to 26-14 with 8:54 left in the third.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, BHS’s Flynn bulled his way into the end zone from the 10-yard line. The TD capped a seven-play, 39-yard drive. The PAT was wide and BHS had pulled to within a TD, 26-20.
The Vols came to life when Whitley again found King on a 38-yard pass that carried to the BHS nine yard line. On the next play, Whitley found Eddins alone in the end zone from the nine-yard line. Denkins’ kick extended the AJ lead to 33-20 with 10:06 left.
AJHS defensive back Cody Faile put the Vols in scoring position when he picked of an errant Jackets’ pass and returned it 25 yards to the Buford nine yard line.
Denkins came on to kick a 22-yard field goal with 7:46 left.
AJ linebacker Logan Lucas picked off another Jackets pass at the BHS 33 to all but seal the win.
Buford head coach Mike Wells saluted AJ’s play.
“We got in a hole early, when AJ came out firing,” said Wells. “We played hard and came back, but give AJ credit. They deserved to win tonight.
“The inability to score at the end of the half was a big play,” Wells said.
Individually for AJ, Kolby Whitley was 19-28 for 276 yards and five touchdowns. Whitley now has 55 touchdown passes in his career. Whitley rushed four times for 15 yards.
Anthony White carried 14 times for 40 yards. Corley Faulkenberry carried once for three yards. Jackson Blackmon had two carries for three yards.
In receiving, Tray King had six catches for 130 yards and two scores. Corley Faulkenberry snared six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Dustin Eddins had five receptions for 44 yards and two touchdowns. McKenzie Denkins caught three passes for 32 yards.
For Buford, Scotti Moser was 5-13-2 for 87 yards and a touchdown. Moser also had one carry for five yards.
In rushing, Evan Flynn carried 12 times for 37 yards and two touchdowns. LaDarius Parker rushed four times for 34 yards. Isaiah Nesbitt carried once for 10 yards. Austin Robinson carried once for nine yards, while Davis Teague rushed twice for five yards. Christian Catledge carried four times for three yards.
In receiving, Kyle Norcia caught two passes for 28 yards. Garrett Crenshaw caught one pass for 30 yards and a TD. Jacoby Funderburk had one reception for 16 yards. LaDarius Parker caught one pass for 13 yards.
AJ, 5-6, travels to Central of Pageland on Friday, Nov. 15. The Eagles were idle in the first round of the Class AA Upper State playoffs with a bye.