Wolves 55, Golden Lions 10
Difference maker: Brett Shepherd’s running helped turn the game around for Buford. He finished with 91 yards on five carries, including a 61-yarder for the Wolves’ first touchdown.
Stat that matters: 101 of St. Pius’ 182 yards came on two plays. The Golden Lions totaled 81 yards on their other 45 plays.
Turning point: Shepherd’s 61-yard touchdown run began a span of 4 minutes, 10 seconds in which Buford went from down 10-0 to up 27-10. A halfback pass from Brandon Marsh to Aaron Auer, a David Curry punt return and a Quay Picou fumble return accounted for the other touchdowns in the game-turning sequence.
ATLANTA — Buford was in unfamiliar territory, but the Wolves refused to stay there long.
Trailing 10-0 against St. Pius X in the Class AAAA state championship game, Buford stormed back with 27 points in a 4-minute, 10-second span to take control for a 55-10 victory Saturday.
The Wolves (15-0) earned their seventh state championship in an eight-season span, four coming in Class AA and two in AAA. They've also won a title in 10 of the past 14 seasons.
Buford senior defensive tackle Quay Picou, a Tennessee commitment, said the slow start motivated the Wolves.
"When we're getting down like that, we don't really get upset at ourselves," Picou said. "We just know deep down inside and around each other that we're a much better team than what we're displaying out there on the field.
"We definitely got that switched around and fixed real quick. It didn't take long."
It was nothing like Buford's 10-3 win against St. Pius in the 2012 Class AAA championship game. The victory extended the Wolves' winning streak to 40 games.
After Dalton Wilson's 60-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches put Buford in a 10-point hole, Brett Shepherd helped the Wolves respond quickly. His 61-yard touchdown run capped a three-play, 66-yard drive and cut it to 10-7 with 3:51 left in the first quarter, just 27 seconds after Wilson's score.
"We're not used to that. But it doesn't matter to us," said Shepherd of the early deficit. "We're going to play our hearts out either way. I wasn't worried. I knew we'd come back, we'd play hard."
Buford then turned to trickery to take its first lead. Quarterback Luke Humphrey lateraled to Brandon Marsh, who then connected with a wide-open Aaron Auer down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 to go in the opening quarter for a 14-10 edge.
A third-down sack on the final play of the first quarter set up the Wolves' next score. David Curry initially fumbled a punt, then cut across the field for a 40-yard touchdown return on the opening play of the second quarter to make it 21-10.
On the first play of the Golden Lions' next drive, Picou scooped up a fumble and returned it 10 yards for a 27-10 lead as an errant snap kept Buford from adding the extra point with 11:41 remaining in the second quarter.
"I felt like it was just me and that ball," Picou said. "So I just run to the ball, and I scoop and score. And I just run for dear life, hoping I could make it. I didn't know who was behind me. I was just going."
St. Pius (12-3) tallied 182 total yards, with 101 of them coming on two plays: a 41-yard Reed Egan-to-Ransom Klinger connection on the first play from scrimmage and Wilson's 60-yard scoring run.
An 8-yard Evyn Cooper touchdown run with 8:07 to play in the half eliminated any possible remaining doubt and pushed it to 34-10.
"We tried to stay poised," Cooper said.
The Wolves extended it to 48-10 by the end of the third quarter on a 15-yard Joshua Thomas touchdown run and a 60-yard scoring pass from Humphrey to Auer.
Connor Tarleton's 1-yard touchdown with 2:12 left pushed it to the final margin.
Shepherd totaled 91 rushing yards, with Thomas adding 64. Humphrey threw for 144 yards, and Auer pulled in four receptions for 126 yards.
Buford had seven players score its eight touchdowns. Wolves coach Jess Simpson said everyone did what they could to play their part in the victory, including Xavier Gantt playing with an injured hamstring.
Buford piled up 417 yards of offense, including 234 on the ground.
Wilson finished with 80 yards on eight carries, giving him 20 yards on the seven carries other than his scoring run.
Even when things didn't look good early, the Wolves didn't flinch.
"We trust our process, and we trust that if we do what we do and we go out there and execute that everything will go our way," Curry said. "So we just kept our heads up and kept on fighting, and good things came our way."