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Wolves remain calm with championship pressure on

POSTED: December 14, 2013 12:17 a.m.

ATLANTA — There wasn’t any panic. Instead, there was a sense of resolve among the experienced group of Buford players that sat inside the locker room at halftime.

While they hadn’t been in the situation much in their careers, the Wolves weren’t worried.

Despite facing their largest deficit of the season, the Wolves (15-0) stayed true to their game plan on Friday night, made some key halftime adjustments, relied on their senior leadership, and then dominated in the second half.

“There was no panic at halftime,” linebacker Korie Rogers said. “We know at Buford, we play our best ball in the second half. We just came out and showed that.”

Buford used a monstrous second half, scoring 21 unanswered points to go along with a stifling defensive performance, to rally for a 35-19 win over Washington County on Friday night in the Class AAA state championship game.

And while the end result was typical Buford, the first half was anything but that.

The Wolves fell into a 13-0 deficit midway through the second quarter after struggling to find an offensive rhythm against Washington County, and after allowing uncharacteristic long scoring plays to the Golden Hawks.

With the clock winding down in the first half, nothing seemed to work. But the Wolves kept digging. Eventually, their size and strength was going to make a difference.

After forcing a Washington County punt, Buford took over possession in a position to change the momentum heading into half.

That’s exactly what they did.

The Wolves drove the length of the field and used a 43-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Mitchell to Isaac Nauta to close their deficit to 13-7.

It was just what the Wolves needed going into the break.

Once in the locker room, the Wolves made the necessary adjustments, which ultimately made the difference in the game.

“We talked about coming out and starting fast and trying to steal the momentum early in the third quarter, and the kids did,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said.

The Wolves dominated on both sides of the football in the final two quarters. Offensively, they scored on four of their five possessions in the second half, grabbing the lead and breaking the state’s all-time scoring record in the process.

Defensively, the Wolves forced a pair of Washington County punts, three turnovers on downs in the second half and limited a Golden Hawks’ rushing attack that entered the game with more than 4,000 yards on the year to a season-low 42 yards.

“I think it starts with the coaches and the great leadership,” said senior Thomas Wilson, who scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second half. “We believe in the plan, and we just want just to execute and be the best players we can be here.

“We made adjustments at halftime, and players executed on the adjustments. The line helped us find the end zone, so I give them all the credit.”

The second-half dominance for Buford was nothing new. After trailing 14-7 to Callaway at halftime of last week’s state semifinal game, the Wolves scored 17 unanswered points in the third quarter, earning a 24-14 victory.

Both weeks the Wolves were able to play some of their best football in the final two quarters, says Simpson.

“Once again, a lot of poise and confidence and believing in the plan and, boy, it was just crazy how well they played the past two weeks in the last 24 minutes,” Simpson said.

Buford dominated its opponents throughout the regular season, before cruising through the opening two rounds of the state playoffs.

The Wolves, though, started to face adversity in their 36-6 win over Carver-Columbus in the state quarterfinals, having to overcome three turnovers to earn the win.

Then there was the seven-point deficit last week to Callaway, and the 13-point deficit on Friday night.

Despite it all, the Wolves held it together, keeping their focus on the second half and making the necessary adjustments in order to earn the win each game and, ultimately, a state championship.

“We just love adversity,” Rogers said. “We love the chance to shine. We got the chance to shine and we did.”

Part of the reason the Wolves were able to keep their composure when facing adversity deep in their playoff run was credited to the way the team practiced throughout the season.

Simpson and his coaching staff often credited the Wolves as being the best practice team that’s ever come through Buford High School. Ultimately, it was the preparation in practice that allowed the players to have the confidence to know that despite trailing, everything was going to work out.

“They’re just so much fun to coach,” defensive coordinator Dickey May said. “They love to compete and they love to play. It never gets too hard for them.

“At practice, our Mondays and Tuesdays are tough and brutal, but they come every week. Sometimes for a 16-year old, 17-year-old kid, it is real easy to get satisfied and feel like you don’t have to work, but this group never did and they came to work.”


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