COLUMBUS — In its semifinal playoff game against Carver High on Friday, Buford faced adversity as it hadn’t faced all year.
Going into the half, the Wolves trailed 13-7, the first time it had fallen behind an opponent all season.
As champions do, however, the team rebounded and refused to be denied.
In a dominant second half, Buford (14-0) outscored Carver 21-0, winning the game 28-13 and advancing to its fifth consecutive state championship.
The Wolves scored three rushing touchdowns in the second half and allowed just 36 total yards to rebound for a mistake-filled first half.
“I’m so proud for these guys, because they haven’t been in a lot of these moments,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “And when you get squeezed and you get tested, you’re going to see what comes out. Man, when we went into that locker room at halftime, there was so much leadership and so much poise.”
With the win, Buford is set to face Calhoun for the fourth consecutive season for the state title. The game is at 4 p.m. Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Buford has won the first three, and also defeated Lovett for the championship in 2007.
Despite running the ball with ease and playing strong defense, Buford fell behind early as a result of three first-half turnovers.
Buford took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on an 18-yard Dontravious Wilson run, and it appeared to be business as usual for the Wolves.
On the ensuing drive, however, Carver (12-2) quickly advanced the ball to the Buford 4-yard line on a 68-yard pass from quarterback Torrance
McGee to Darius Williams. Three plays later,
McGee punched it in on a 2-yard quarterback keeper to tie the score.
The Wolves fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, and running back Noah Hickey ran it in from 3 yards out just six plays later. A missed extra point kept the score at 13-7.
Driving late in Carver territory late in the first half, Buford fumbled it again and entered the half down by six points.
In all, the Wolves outgained the Tigers by 90 yards on offense. Buford gained 187 of its 211 yards on the ground.
“We knew what we were doing wrong, we knew we were beating them on the ground,” said running back Andre Johnson, who ran for 128 yards in the game. “We needed to stop the turnovers, hold on the ball, keep it secure and keep pounding the ball and put points on the board.”
Simpson said that mistakes like that are even more critical at this time of the year.
“That’s playoff football,” he said. “This time of the year, you can’t beat yourself.”
Right out of the locker room in the second half, however, Buford regained its swagger on defense.
It forced a quick three-and-out, then mounted a 13-play, six-minute drive that culminated in a 5-yard touchdown run by fullback Nathan Staub. Staub finished with 63 yards on the ground to go with his score.
It was the kind of drive that has helped Buford find success all season.
“One of the coaches told me that we were going to find a nine-minute drive in there somewhere,” Simpson said. “I told him God bless you if you can.”
Buford added touchdown runs by quarterback Sam Clay, a 26-yarder, and Rick LeGrant. LeGrant’s, a 15-yard score with just over two minutes remaining, put to rest any thoughts of a Carver comeback.
“I don’t really get to touch the ball that much, but when I get in there, I try to do my thing,” LeGrant said. “If it wasn’t for my linemen, though, none of it would have been possible.”
Wilson also ran for 72 yards and a score on 13 carries in the game.
For Carver, star running back Marquez Holloway rushed for 37 yards in the first half, but did not return to the game after halftime due to an undisclosed chest injury. Williams led the way for Carver with 88 yards on five receptions.
Now, Buford can turn its attention to winning its state-record fifth consecutive championship. After Simpson had said earlier this week his team was not thinking about that game until after Carver, Johnson said it was on their mind now.
“Oh, we’re thinking about it,” he said with a laugh.