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Buford tops Callaway 24-14 to reach state final

After trailing at half, Wolves own third quarter en route to state final berth

POSTED: December 7, 2013 12:22 a.m.
NAT GURLEY/The Times

Buford wide receiver Tre Neal is brought down after catching a pass in the first half Friday against Callaway at Tom Riden Stadium.

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BUFORD — What a difference a half makes.

After trailing at halftime for the first time all season, top-ranked Buford found its groove in the second half on Friday and clinched its seventh straight trip to a state championship game, earning a 24-14 come-from-behind win over the Callaway Cavaliers in the state semifinals at Tom Riden Stadium.

Now the Wolves (14-0) will face undefeated Washington County, which routed Ringgold 37-0 in the other semifinal game, at 5 p.m. Friday in the Class AAA state championship game in the Georgia Dome.

The appearance in the state title game will be Buford’s 12th since 2000. The Wolves, who won the state championship last season, are 8-3 in the 11 championship appearances during that span.

“Tonight is a special night and I told them to enjoy it,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “Certainly, that second half, that performance and effort, the adjustments, the whole thing is something we’ll probably be talking about for a long time.”

After playing an uncharacteristic first half of Buford football and falling into a 14-7 deficit at the half, the Wolves scored 17 points in the third quarter to pull ahead.

That was all they needed.

The Wolves used two third-quarter rushing touchdowns from junior Joshua Thomas and a 43-yard field goal from Matthew Bonadies to grab a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. In the final frame, the Wolves held off Callaway in driving rain and heavy winds.

“We have the best line in the state, we have the best scout team in the state and we have the best community in the state,” said Thomas, who also rushed for a 26-yard score in the first quarter.

“We give it all to them. They kept fueling us and fueling us.”

Buford finished the night with 414 yards of total offense, led by Thomas’ game-high 221 yards rushing. Callaway finished the night with 195 yards on offense.

Not only was it Buford’s first time trailing at half all season, but it was also the Wolves’ first time trailing at any point in a game since their semifinal win over Cartersville last season.

Despite being down, the Wolves didn’t panic. Simpson said they simply recouped at halftime by making “a few small adjustments.”

The adjustments worked, both offensively and defensively.

After allowing two scoring drives and 162 yards of total offense to Callaway in the first half, the Buford defense limited the Cavaliers to just 33 second-half yards, forcing two punts in the third quarter, an interception and a pair of fourth-quarter turnover on downs.

“They were blocking us a little bit different than what they had done all year,” Simpson said, “and we got over there at halftime and we had a chance to show the kids at halftime, ‘hey, here is what they are doing.’”

While the defense turned up the intensity, the offense found its form, taking advantage of shorter fields.

After forcing Callaway to a three-and-out on the first drive of the third quarter, the Wolves used four plays to tie the game at 14-14. A 5-yard touchdown run from Thomas capped off the drive.

Buford defensive tackle Shug Frazier intercepted a Callaway pass attempt on the ensuing drive. Four plays later, Thomas scored on a 6-yard run that gave the Wolves a 21-14 lead.

The Wolves added Bonadies’ field goal on their ensuing drive, making the score 24-14.

“It is about being in the moment,” Simpson said. “Tonight, they had to have their best. Their best was needed, and they rose to the occasion.

“In life, you’re going to have to do hard things, and tonight was one of those times because they could have folded it up and said, ‘Tonight isn’t our night.’ But they refused to do that.”

Callaway used a 22-yard touchdown run from quarterback Tez Parks to grab a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, before Thomas knotted the game up with a 26-yard run on the Wolves’ ensuing drive.

The Cavaliers grabbed a 14-7 lead two drives later, when Eddie Culpepper crashed into the end zone for a 1-yard run coming on 4th-and-goal.

Callaway finished the season with a 12-2 record, the school’s best season since opening in 1996.



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