LeForge, defense leads Buchanan past Bullard in playoff opener

Senior quarterback Nolan LeForge passed for 232 yards and two touchdowns for Buchanan in the team’s first home playoff win in seven years. [Photo by Nick Baker]


Buchanan freshman running back Kendall Milton bursts up field in the Bears 30-9 first round playoff win against Bullard. Milton scored on a 3-yard touchdown run in the game. [Photo by Nick Baker]
Buchanan freshman running back Kendall Milton bursts up field in the Bears 30-9 first round playoff win against Bullard. Milton scored on a 3-yard touchdown run in the game.
[Photo by Nick Baker]
By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
paulmeadors@gmail.com
@paulmeadors

It had been a while since Buchanan had won a home playoff game – years in fact – and the 2016 edition of Bears football wasn’t about to make it eight.

Led by senior quarterback Nolan LeForge’s 238 passing yards and two touchdowns, a solid running game and opportunistic defense, the No. 7 seeded Bears routed No. 10 Bullard 30-9 at the friendly confines of Veterans Memorial Stadium in the first round of the Central Section D-I playoffs.

“Playoff wins are great, we’ll take them any way they come,” said Matt Giordano, the first-year Bears head coach. “We’ve had a good home record this year and coaches and players worked hard this year for these types of games.”

After a promising 4-1 start to the season, the Bears found a bit of tough sledding in the TRAC, going 2-3 including a disappointing loss to Clovis North on Nov. 3. The silver lining during that five-game stretch was beating Clovis 28-13.

But when playoffs start you can throw all that out the window – the only game that matters is the one in front.

Kennan Wolf of Buchanan stretches out for a 9-yard touchdown catch in front of No. 12 Blake Wells (who also scored on a touchdown run) for a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. [Photo by Nick Baker]
Kennan Wolf of Buchanan stretches out for a 9-yard touchdown catch in front of No. 12 Blake Wells (who also scored on a touchdown run) for a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
[Photo by Nick Baker]
Buchanan would stumble early in this one as Bullard stymied two drives on fourth down, including bringing down hard-nosed running back Zach Presno on the 2-yard line.

The Knights would kick a field goal with 3:33 left in the first quarter for the early 3-0 lead.  

But the Bears responded with an 8-play drive culminated by a 9-yard TD pass from LeForge to Keenan Wolf, his first of the season – a play where LeForge roll out right, eluded a defensive player and threw a strike to Wolf who dove into the end zone. Blake Wells, picked up the bad snap on the extra point and ran it in for 8-3 lead.

“He made a great play, that was all him,” said LeForge said of Wolf’s touchdown. “That was a big-time play.”

Buchanan would have to respond again after Bullard’s only touchdown of the game – with 4:34 left in the second quarter Freshman Kendall Milton finished off a ten-play sustained drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 15-9 lead the Bears would not relinquish.

And how about the Buchanan defense, going up against Bullard’s wing-T offense, rifled with misdirections and motions all run with a quick pace? Giordano points to the effort of his assistant coaches and their preparation.

“Mike Vogt, Chris Besinger, Christian Parra, those three guys put show much work into the defense, and have such a high level of expectation for these kids. It’s all because of them.

Buchanan’s Jack Wilkens lays a hit on a Bullard ball carrier in the team’s playoff win. The Bears travel to face No. 2 Bakersfield in the second round. [Photo by Nick Baker]
Buchanan’s Jack Wilkens lays a hit on a Bullard ball carrier in the team’s playoff win. The Bears travel to face No. 2 Bakersfield in the second round. [Photo by Nick Baker]
“Coach Arax does such a great job running that offense and we just try and preach to play disciplined football and focus on fundamentals.”

Wells would later score on a 4-yard touchdown run and Isaiah Tigler caught a 31-yard touchdown where he made a diving catch on a tipped ball for the game’s final score.

Buchanan will travel to face No. 2 Bakersfield in the quarterfinals on Nov. 16.

“We’re going to have to be on our top game,” said LeForge. “We’re going to have to be firing on all cylinders.”