The fourth quarter was shortened because of rain and lightning, but not before Buice and Rollins both found the end zone twice.
“They just compliment each other so well,” Gaston head coach Swane Morris said. “They’re great. Then you have (Mitch) Kendall who is more of a bruiser.”
Buice ran for 183 yards on 16 carries — most in the first half — and two touchdowns, while Rollins carried six times for 74 yards and two scores.
With the win, Gaston (10-2) advances to face Appalchian (10-2) in next Friday’s third round. Appalachian defeated Cedar Bluff 7-0 in other playoff action Friday to advance.’
Spring Garden’s historical season ends at 9-3, the best in school history.
Though Gaston may have had control the majority of the contest, it was Spring Garden which struck first.
Following a fumble on Gaston’s first drive, Spring Garden’s Trey Littlefield wasted little time giving his team an early advantage. His 23-yard run on fourth down gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
“They came out on fire,” Morris said of Spring Garden, which lost to Gaston 28-3 earlier in the season.
“I figured they would do that. We beat them earlier in the year and they were ready to get back. They did a heck of a job, had a good game plan and caught us on our heels.”
Gaston responded by scoring six unanswered touchdowns, including three in the first half. It was Buice doing most of the work before halftime, as the junior scored on a pair of 14-yard touchdown runs.
Rollins also found the end zone in the first half between Buice’s scores. He took an end-around handoff and nearly fell in the backfield before splitting the middle of the Panthers’ defense for a 20-yard touchdown run.
Spring Garden threatened late in the half, as a fake punt catapulted the Panthers deep in Bulldogs’ territory. However, Spring Garden’s Tyler Messer fumbled into the end zone on second-and-goal where Dustin Isbell fell onto the loose ball, securing a 21-7 lead at halftime.
“That was huge,” Morris said. “We had a good hit on the ball and I saw it pop out. I was just hoping we fell on it in the end zone.”
Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard said the Panthers had momentum early and their opportunities, but just couldn't get over the hump.
“The type game we had to play we didn't play,” Howard said. “We had too many penalties and too many turnovers. You can't make mistakes like that against a really good team."
“I felt like we had an opportunity to win. Our boys were pumped up and really excited. We had a lot of momentum early.”
Gaston’s defense stifled Spring Garden in the second half, as the first string did not allow the Panthers past midfield.
On the Bulldogs’ first possession of the second half, Rollins scored on a 27-yard scamper on his final carry of the night.
Then, after forcing a turnover on downs, Gaston quarterback Dustin Stewart connected with Collin Jarbo for a 43-yard touchdown pass.
Stewart used his running ability on Gaston’s next possession, taking an option keeper 69 yards for a score.
Spring Garden scored its final touchdown on its ensuing possession, as Littlefield went 17 yards into the end zone. Littlefield rushed 21 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Gaston’s Trent White capped the scoring with 3:36 remaining in the game when he scorched the Panthers’ defense for an 81-yard score.
After the loss, Howard said he was proud of what his team accomplished this season.
“They'll be the team everyone holds all the others to,” he said.
“This group of seniors go out as our all-time winningest group. I think their impressions will be felt four or five years down the road. It's been a fun ride.”