It didn’t take long to see why colleges are fighting to sign Roswell senior Xavier McKinney.
McKinney took the opening kickoff, burst through a hole and flew down the sideline for a 91-yard kickoff return. That touchdown set the pace as the Class AAAAAAA No. 3 Hornets started the season with a 24-7 win over Class AAAAA No. 1 Buford in the Corky Kell Classic at McEachern’s Walter Cantrell Stadium.
“They kicked it to the guy you hope they kick it to,” Roswell coach John Ford said.
McKinney, a 6-1, 190-pound four-star recruit who starts at safety, had a feeling he was going to do something special.
“I was just trying to find a hole and make a play on the first play,” McKinney said. “I had a feeling I was going to make a play, so I did it. It set the tone great. That’s exactly what we needed to start off the game. What I did was a good momentum swing but overall we played great. That’s all that matters.”
Buford was able to respond with a stout defensive effort, regain its footing and tie the game on Derrian Brown’s 9-yardrun late in the first period.
“I was proud of our kids because that’s the kind of thing at the beginning of the game that can really take the air out of your sails,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “We settled down and battled back. This is a tough matchup for us. They’ve got a great team and their staff does an unreal job. This was a tall task from us at the get-go.”
Roswell took the lead midway in the second quarter when quarterback Malik Willis connected with Jayden Comma for a 24-yard touchdown. The Hornets held the 14-7 lead at halftime.
Roswell stretched their lead with a pair of scores in the third period. Sheldon Evans scored on a 13-yard run and Turner Barkhoff kicked a 43-yard field goal to complete an 11-play drive.
“They ran the ball a little in the third quarter and broke us a little,” Simpson said.
The Roswell defense never let Buford move the ball on the ground, limiting the Wolves to 71 yards rushing on 31 carries, and kept pressure on Buford quarterback Mic Roof, who completed just 11 of 30 passes for 132 yards and was sacked twice.
Roswell ran for 203 yards; Sheldon Evans carried 21 times for 119 yards and Willis rushed 11 times for 73 yards. The hard-to-handle Willis completed 13 of 21 passes for 119 yards, but was sacked twice.
“They won the line of scrimmage on both sides,” Simpson said. “We held our own and played some decent defense. I was proud of 17 points. I think we would have taken that at the beginning on defense.”
Despite their dominance, Ford said the Hornets are far from a completed project.
“It was a good game,” Ford said. “We’ve got some things to clean up, though. If we don’t keep adjusting we’re going to have some problems.”