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Buford returns to state title game with 44-21 romp

BUFORD - For the whole game, Daniel Villafuerte just kept kicking.

Most of his kicks sailed into a net on the sideline, but mixed in were two quarters worth of kickoffs through the end zone and three field goals. The most he's ever had to kick in the playoffs.

"I knew they were going to be in," Villafuerte said of his kicks. "I had confidence they were going to go in."

With Villafuerte hitting progressively longer field goals of 36, 39 and 42 yards, he eventually matched his career long and he allowed Buford to end all but one of its drives with a score.

Those field goals helped the Wolves continuously extend their lead on the way to a 44-21 win over Fitzgerald in the Class AA state semifinals. Buford now heads to the Georgia Dome to face Calhoun on Friday for its second straight state championship.

"I am so proud of them," said Buford head coach Jess Simpson. "They played their tails off. I can't tell you the amount of time (put in). It's like these kids are studying for a final exam and they have to make an A on it. What they are putting in and what they are getting out, I am so tickled for them."

The effort in preparation showed from the start.

On its first two possessions, Fitzgerald managed just four total yards and Buford jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. Cody Getz scored the first of his two touchdowns from 13 yards out and Jessel Curry dove in for his first of two from the 1.

Neither Buford drive needed to go more than 55 yards, with the defense and the special teams setting up the offense with great field position. For the game, no Buford drive started past the 36, three times starting on Fitzgerald's side of the field.

"That has really been the recipe here lately for four or five games in a row," Simpson said. "Our average starting position has been at midfield. Creating a short field. We scored four out of four times we had the ball in the first half. You can't ask any more out of those kids from an execution standpoint."

For Getz, who rushed for 95 yards on 15 carries, the good field position makes it easy.

"Our defense played one heck of a game," he said. "We knew (Fitzgerald) was going to be the best offensive team we played all year. The defense prepared well and cut the field in half."

And while Buford didn't need to mount a lengthy scoring drive, Villafuerte, when the wind was with him, forced Fitzgerald to start most of its drives near its own 20. All the kicking into the net kept his leg warm for more than just field goals.

"All the time (I try to put it through the end zone)," he said. "It is just special to see that the other team can't take it back. It is just special."

Villafuerte's first field goal ended the scoring in the first half and gave the Wolves a 24-7 lead. The one scoring drive by Fitzgerald went 79 yards and took 14 plays after the offense adjusted to Buford's defense by mixing in short passes after the Wolves built their lead. The long drive played into Buford's game plan.

"We felt like we were going to be able to run the ball on them," Simpson said. "Just not letting it be easy for them was a big deal tonight.

"We were scared to death. We knew they were going to find ways to run the ball. They make you change up your keys."

And the Purple Hurricane did show, briefly, how it averaged scores in the 30s and 40s entering tonight's game.

Georgia Tech commit Jemea Thomas broke lose on a 59-yard run to end the night with 69 rushing yards and he caught two passes for 40 yards, including a 27-yard scoring grab.

But aside from his brief bursts, Fitzgerald's offense was forced to grind out for each of its yards.

The grinding kept the clock running and Buford, as it has done all season, kept pounding. Storm Johnson finally broke loose in the final quarter for a 42-yard scoring sprint to put the game away and send Buford to the Dome. This time for a state title.

"To see them coming together and see them peaking at the right time it's worth it all for me," Simpson said. "To get this opportunity, and I feel confident for how my kids are going to prepare, it is a big, big deal for us."

And no one is as excited as Villafuerte.

"You don't have to worry about the wind or anything (in the Dome)," he said.