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Buford wins state championship in overtime

Wolves defeat Calhoun for fourth straight title

POSTED: December 10, 2010 9:50 p.m.
Sara Guevara/The Times

Buford's Dominique Swope is taken down by Calhoun's Caden Parker Friday during the Class AA state championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

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ATLANTA — No matter how hard Calhoun tried, no matter how many big plays it made, and no matter how much heart it had, it just wasn’t enough to dethrone Buford.

Calhoun overcame a two-score, fourth-quarter deficit and the Yellow Jackets’ Adam Griffith kicked a long field goal at the end of regulation to tie the game, but Buford, with its solid and steady play, scored in overtime, then made a defensive stand to win 31-24 in the Class AA state championship.

It was Buford’s record-tying fourth consecutive state title, matching West Rome’s four-peat from 1982-85. The Wolves (14-1) have now won state titles in seven of the last 10 seasons and have eight overall. This is the third year in a row they’ve beat the Yellow Jackets (14-1) in the title game.

“Four-peat, that explains itself,” said junior Kurt Freitag, whose sack of Calhoun quarterback Landon Curtis in overtime forced a fourth-and-long the Jackets couldn’t convert. “We’re coming back next year – we ain’t going nowhere.”

Added Wolves senior quarterback Alex Ross, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown: “It’s unlike anything else. The tradition, the family here, I mean you can’t find it anywhere else.”

Leading 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, it appeared the Wolves were in control. But the Calhoun defense made a 180-degree turn from its play in the first half, when Buford controlled the ball for all but seven minutes for a 17-7 lead heading into halftime.

To start the fourth quarter, the Jackets forced three-and-outs on Buford’s first two possessions, and Curtis’ 31-yard touchdown pass to Chase Rierson pulled the Jackets to within 24-21 with 7:44 left. The Jackets defense then stopped Buford on two more possessions, taking over on the Wolves’ 43 with 2:35 left to play.

The drive eventually stalled on the Buford 28, but not before the Jackets kept it going with a 20-yard pass from Curtis to Rierson on third-and-12 that put Calhoun on the 25 with 53 seconds to play.

Four plays later, Griffith kicked a 45-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to tie the game at 24.

“I was nervous, but I knew I was going to make it,” said the junior of his only field goal attempt of the game. “After I made that field goal, I knew we were going to win the game, because I believed for my team.

“But it’s just – I don’t know what happened.”

Wolves coach Jess Simpson said his team didn’t panic when Griffith sent the game to overtime.

“I told them to stay poised and win the possession,” Simpson said. “We had to score and put the pressure on them.”

Calhoun won the coin toss before overtime and deferred to Buford — GHSA’s football overtime format is similar to that of the NCAA’s, with each team getting the ball on the opposition’s 15.

On the Wolves’ third play of the drive, Dominique Swope rushed 9 yards to bring the score to its final margin.

Swope’s run was set up by a Calhoun facemask penalty that negated a sack for a 15-yard loss, which would have put Buford in a third-and-long situation.

“It means everything,” said Swope, who played through the pain of a turf-toe injury that kept him out of practice this week, of his game-winning score. “The team put out a victory and we won in the Dome for the fourth time.”

On Calhoun’s possession, Freitag’s sack of Curtis on third-and-3 was good for a 7-yard loss. The final play of the game was a short pass from Curtis to running back Dustin Christian for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-10.

“When you work hard to get here, and you just get beat three years in a row by the same team, it’s just a feeling you never want to have,” said Christian, a senior who finished with a game-high 78 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

With the championship in Buford’s hands, Wolves coach Jess Simpson now has as many state titles as he has losses since taking over for the Wolves in 2005. Simpson, who took over for Dexter Wood — the current Wolves athletic director who guided the Wolves to three straight state titles from 2001-’03 — is 82-4 at Buford.

“I’m in a really special place,” said Simpson, who served as an assistant on Wood’s staff. “I’ve got great players, great assistant coaches who have all been here with me from the start and a lot of holdovers from when I was an assistant with coach Wood. I’ve got an unbelievable support system within the school … and our community — the support they showed was unreal.

“That’s what makes it so special.”

Calhoun’s Hal Lamb, on the other hand, is now 0-for-4 in Jackets state title games since 2005.

“This is a special bunch and I hate to see them go out like this,” said Lamb. “I’m proud of their effort. They gave tremendous effort and no one gave us a chance … We never gave up on ourselves. It’s been an unbelievable season.”

Buford opened the game with an eight play, 80-yard drive that ate three minutes of clock and culminated in Seon Jones’ 4-yard run.

On Calhoun’s next possession, Christian’s fumble was recovered by junior defensive back Ryan Dillard, who returned it for a 58-yard touchdown to give Buford an early 14-0 lead.

On the return, it appeared Curtis was going to tackle Dillard near the sideline, before Dillard juked him and cut across the middle of the field.

“I saw the ball pop out and bounce on the ground and I picked it up and took it back,” said Dillard, who also intercepted a pass in the final minutes of the first half in Wolves territory, ending a Calhoun scoring threat. “I saw the quarterback and I knew I wanted to get to the end zone, so I put a move on him.”

Calhoun got on the board two minutes into the second quarter on Christian’s 3-yard run. Buford responded with a 15-play, seven-minute drive that ended on David Petroni’s 28-yard field goal, the final score of the first half.

The game appeared to be out of Calhoun’s reach after Buford stopped the Jackets on their first possession of the second half, then scored on Ross’s 24-yard pass to Frietag to take a 24-7 lead.

Calhoun responded with an 8-yard Christian scoring run that sparked the Jackets’ rally. But Buford showed the resiliency of a three-time defending champion, and now Simpson and the Wolves have a chance for a fifth straight title, which is unprecedented in Georgia.

“Ain’t worried about it,” Simpson said.

Jones led the Wolves with 74 rushing yards on 18 carries and Eric Barr had 54 yards on nine carries. Jamal English had four catches for 45 yards and Paris Head had five catches for 43.

For the Jackets, Curtis was 14 of 27 for 192 yards and his leading receiver was J.T. Palmer, who caught five passes for 65 yards. Clay Johnson caught two passes for 38 yards and Christian caught four passes for 32 yards.



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