1206SimpsonAUDListen to Buford coach Jess Simpson talk about his team's win on Friday in the Class AA state semifinals.
1206LeeAUDListen to Buford's Dallas Lee talk about the Wolves' semifinal win over Fitzgerald.
1206GetzAUDListen to Buford running back Cody Getz talk about advancing to the state championship game.
BUFORD — All year long Buford’s seniors have had a mantra of "Leave it as you found it."
They now have that opportunity.
After winning the Class AA state championship last year, Buford is back in the title game after the top-ranked Wolves beat Fitzgerald 44-21 in the semifinals of the Class AA playoffs on Friday at Tom Riden Stadium.
"It’s kind of bittersweet right now, I’m trying to hold everything in," said senior running back Cody Getz, who rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns in the win. "This senior class played a heck of a game and a heck of a year, and we finally get to go where we’ve been working four years to get to."
That place is the Georgia Dome, where Buford will play Region 7-AA’s Calhoun (12-2), which beat Brooks County 38-35 in its semifinal game Friday.
The site of the championship game, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. next Friday, is familiar to the Wolves (14-0), who are 6-0 in games played at the Dome since 2000.
Despite playing in a professional stadium in his final high school game, Buford senior Dallas Lee wishes that the game could be played in front of the Buford faithful at Tom Riden.
"I’d like it to be at home, but the Dome is an awesome place," Lee said. "We started the year on a professional stadium and we get to end it there, too."
Since starting the season with a 42-21 win over Mansfield, Texas, at Dallas Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the Wolves have reeled off 13 consecutive victories, few as dominant as their final home win of the year.
Buford scored on all four of its first-half possessions, including touchdowns of 13 and 4 yards from Getz, a 1-yard score by Jessel Curry and a 36-yard field goal by Daniel Villafuerte.
"I’m so proud of ’em. They just played their tails off," Buford coach Jess Simpson said of his team. "I can’t tell you about the process. ... It’s like these kids are studying for a final exam and they got to make an A on it. What they’re putting in and what they’re getting out ... I’m just so tickled for them."
With a 24-7 lead at halftime and limiting Fitzgerald (11-3) to four first downs, Buford certainly played it’s A game in the first half, and it didn’t slow down after halftime.
Despite a third-quarter touchdown from Fitzgerald’s Jemea Thomas, who finished the game with all three Purple Hurricanes’ scores, Buford increased its lead behind the strong leg of Villafuerte. The senior kicker made field goals of 39 and 42 yards in the second half.
"Two of those I didn’t think he hit that well," Simpson said. "It’s like he knows he has to hit a 9-iron and hits a 9-iron. He’s been money here for quite a while."
Storm Johnson was also money for Buford on Friday, as the junior running back rushed for a game-high 131 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown to end his night.
Getz and Johnson combined to rush for 224 of the team’s 249 yards on the ground.
"It’s a neat thing when both of those guys get it going," Simpson said.
Simpson, Getz and Lee all credited the offensive line for the strong rushing performance. The unit dominated Fitzgerald’s defense all game, which is fitting since Buford as a team was dominating as well.
"To see a team peak at this time of year is amazing," Simpson said. "It’s been a long grind for these kids and to see them come together is worth it all for me."
And it’s worth it for the players too, who get the opportunity to defend their title next Friday in what will be Buford’s seventh finals appearance this decade.
"It’s gonna be insane, it’s gonna be crazy," Getz said of finishing his career at the Georgia Dome with a title on the line. "We know we’re fighting for another ring and we want to go out on top and leave it to next year’s crop like we found it this year."
That’s what Getz and the rest of the seniors have been focused on all year, and with a win next Friday they’ll finally be able to say they left the program like they found it, as champions.