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Buford wins third straight state championship
Calhoun's Cameron Budzius catches up with Buford's Jessel Curry Friday during the Class AA state title game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
ATLANTA — Buford football coach Jess Simpson went to the school as an assistant coach under the pretense of helping Dexter Wood win a state title. Both men may have been selling themselves short.

Wood won three state titles with the Wolves and now Simpson has three of his own. Buford won this year’s Class AA state title, its third consecutive championship, with a 13-10 win against Calhoun on Friday at the Georgia Dome.

“I’m really in shock right now,” Simpson said after celebrating with his program. “When we lost early in the season (to Lovett), I didn’t know how our team would respond.

“But there was just never an ounce of quit in this team.”

The Wolves (14-1) won the state title game, their second consecutive against the Yellow Jackets (14-1), primarily by limiting the opportunities of Calhoun’s senior wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who scored the team’s only touchdown on a reverse from the 6 with 5:06 left in the game.

The Yellow Jackets used every trick in the book to get the ball in Rogers’ hands, but the Wolves held him to only 80 receiving yards.

“Our defense was amazing to only hold Calhoun to 10 points,” Simpson said. “To win, I thought it was going to be a 38-35, back-and-forth type game. And I would have been totally fine with that.”

Along with keeping Rogers, a University of Georgia verbal commit, from breaking a long play, the Wolves also forced some key turnovers. Late in the fourth and leading 13-3, Buford defensive back Ryan Dillard came away with an interception at the Wolves’ 1-yard line.

The Buford defense also forced three fumbles, including a strip after Calhoun’s J.T. Palmer picked up 32 yards on a reception, and another forced turnover after Rogers gained 2 yards on a catch in Buford territory.

Rogers’ output was still enough to set a new single-season receiving record with 1,644 yards, three more than Habersham Central’s Tavarres King in 2007. However, Buford will trade being the answer to a trivia question for a state title any day.

“I don’t care if it was by 150 points or 1 point: we’re the state champs,” Buford senior lineman Mitchell De-Walt said. “This feeling is wonderful.”

“A lot of people didn’t think we’d be able to do it again after we lost early this year,” said Buford senior fullback Jessel Curry, who scored both of the team’s touchdowns. “But we showed what we’re all about at Buford.

“I knew we would be able to win.”

Simpson’s risk-taker mentality, after playing conservatively on offensive most of the game, also deserves some credit for Buford’s victory.

Leading 13-10 and facing a third-and-5 late in the fourth quarter, he rolled out a halfback pass play that resulted in a 41-yard completion from Darrian Smith to Paris Head. It was the first time he utilized the play all season, wanting to avoid punting back to the Yellow Jackets and giving them the opportunity to score in the final two minutes.

After Palmer’s fumble late in the third quarter, Buford drove the ball down the field steadily behind the running of Eric Barr, Curry, Nathan Staub and Seon Jones. On the 11th play of the drive with third-and-goal at the 5, Wolves quarterback Alex Ross rolled out and found Curry open for the touchdown pass to take a 13-3 lead with 10:48 remaining in the game.

Curry’s other touchdown came with a run from the 1 on fourth-and-goal with 4:15 remaining in the opening half. It gave Buford a 6-3 lead.

Jones led Buford with 79 yards rushing and Curry added 61.

In the opening quarter, it appeared as if the Yellow Jackets were going to have some rhythm on offense. On the game’s opening drive, Rogers had receptions of 12 and 9 yards, and Dustin Christian added a 12-yard catch for Calhoun. However, the Wolves’ double coverage of Rogers started to pay off with a deflected pass in the end zone and forced the Yellow Jackets to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Adam Griffith.

Leading 13-3 late in the fourth, Buford had what appeared to be a first down, but the ball came loose and was recovered by Calhoun at the Buford 11-yard line. Three plays later, the Yellow Jackets got the ball in the hands of Rogers for his only carry of the game and used his speed to get to the corner and score from the 5.

Buford’s defense held Calhoun, a team that averaged 42 points per game leading into the state title game, to only 234 yards of total offense. Yellow Jackets quarterback Nash Nance, a Vanderbilt verbal commit, had 14 completions for 159 yards.

“Our defense played with unbelievable passion tonight and gave just a tremendous effort,” Buford senior offensive lineman Nolan Alexander said. “The feeling of winning three straight state titles is just unbelievable.

“I’ll never play football again in my life and to go out like this is the best.”
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