Wolves 27, Purple Hurricanes 3
Difference maker: Joshua Thomas once again came up big on the goal line. He had three 1-yard touchdowns for Buford and finished with 61 rushing yards. He was also part of the pass rush that regularly harassed Cartersville quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Stat that matters: 41 yards, the longest Buford had to drive for a touchdown. The Wolves' scoring drives spanned 41, 28, 3 and 28 yards.
Turning point: Steven Reese's interception kept Cartersville from cutting into a 14-3 Buford edge and allowed the Wolves to go up 21-3 three plays later on Thomas' third touchdown run.
Who's next: Buford (14-0) faces St. Pius X (12-2) at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Georgia Dome in the Class AAAA state championship game.
CARTERSVILLE — Momentum was moving fast in Cartersville’s direction. Steven Reese changed that with one play.
With the Purple Hurricanes facing a fourth-and-four at the Buford 44 and trailing 14-3 late in the third quarter, Reese intercepted Cartersville freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and returned the ball 59 yards to the Hurricanes 3-yard line.
Three plays later, Joshua Thomas punched in his third 1-yard touchdown run of the night, and Buford was well on its way to a 27-3 Class AAAA semifinal victory at Weinman Stadium and its eighth consecutive state title game appearance.
“It jumpstarted everything,” Buford senior defensive end/fullback Jordan Perlotte said of Reese’s interception.
Buford (14-0) will go for its seventh state championship in that span when it faces St. Pius X, a 28-21 winner against Woodward Academy, next weekend.
The title game, set for 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at the Georgia Dome, is a rematch of the Wolves’ 10-3 win in the 2012 state championship game.
The Buford defense used a mix of pressure and coverage to severely limit Lawrence, who finished 18-of-39 passing for 126 yards and an interception. He entered the game with 2,908 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“He’s a freshman quarterback. So we were able to give him a couple different looks, pressure him from different places he hasn’t seen,” Reese said. “Our whole goal was to mess with his mind a little bit.”
Perlotte said Buford’s plan worked like it was drawn up.
“We disguised a bunch of blitzes,” Perlotte said. “And we were able to get the job done.”
The Wolves held Cartersville to 193 yards, 83 of which came on two pass plays. That effort came as no surprise to Buford coach Jess Simpson.
“They’ve done it with defense all year,” Simpson said.
Before Reese’s momentum-turning play, Cartersville had held Buford on fourth down at the Hurricanes’ 25 and driven 31 yards while picking up two first downs. A touchdown and extra point would have cut it to a four-point margin. Then Reese changed everything.
Cartersville lost a fumble on the second play of its ensuing drive, and the Wolves cashed in again on Perlotte’s 2-yard scoring run with 9:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Purple Hurricanes (12-2) fell to Buford in the state semifinals for the second time in three years. First-year Cartersville coach Joey King said he was impressed with the way his guys battled despite fighting from behind throughout the game.
“We had too many missed opportunities,” King said. “And against a team like Buford, you can’t miss opportunities.”
Evyn Cooper had 99 rushing yards and Thomas added 61 yards on the ground for a Buford offense that never needed to go more than 41 yards for a score. A pair of short punts helped set up the Wolves’ first two scores.
The next stop for Buford is a return to the Georgia Dome.
“We’re really excited,” Cooper said. “We’ve been waiting for this all year, starting in July.”
There’s still one week of practice left for the Wolves before going for their ultimate goal.
“That’s all you can ask for,” Reese said.