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Second-half performance leads Buford to another title

ATLANTA - For the better part of three quarters, it looked like Friday's Class AA state championship football game between Buford and Calhoun might go to whichever team had the ball last.

While Buford's running game continued to impose its will, the defense finally found a way to slow down Calhoun's passing game just enough.

And riding a career night from Cody Getz, the top-ranked Wolves were finally able to pull away from the No. 10 Yellow Jackets beginning late in the third quarter and put away their second straight title - and their fifth in the last eight years - with a 45-21 victory at the Georgia Dome.

"We knew we were going to have to ... really separate ourselves later in the game," said Getz, who finished the night with a career-high 233 yards on 21 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead Buford (15-0) to its 30th straight victory. "Everyone played their hearts out (Friday), ... and we pulled away. I can't say enough about my teammates."

Paced by Getz's big night, as well as a strong performance by Storm Johnson (10 carries, 92 yards, TD), the Wolves rolled up 445 yards of total offense on the night, 383 of which came on the ground.

All those yards proved necessary as Calhoun (12-3) finished with 382 total yards of its own, including 248 from the arm of quarterback Michael Johnson, who completed 22 of 35 passes.

But it was a defensive play that got Buford off to an auspicious start. On the second play of the game, Ja'Kar Bridges stepped in front of a receiver for an interception and set up the Wolves at the Yellow Jacket 21-yard line.

"I just wanted to break on it and make a play and put the offense in a good spot," Bridges said.

Two plays later, Getz knifed his way through the Calhoun defense to go the distance for a 21-yard score, putting the Wolves up 7-0 just 1:07 after the opening kickoff.

But Calhoun got its offense going on its third possession, taking advantage of good starting field position after a punt at the Buford 43 to score five plays later on Michael Johnson's 27-yard scoring strike to Derek Ramsey, tying the game 7-7 with 4:32 left in the first quarter.

The two teams then traded long, time-consuming drives in the second quarter.

Buford struck first, taking advantage of three Calhoun penalties to drive 74 yards in 11 plays, capped by Getz's 1-yard dive to reclaim the lead at 14-7 with 7:12 left in the first half.

Calhoun came right back with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that drained 5:14 off the clock and ended when Johnson hit Dustin Christian with a 2-yard swing pass on third-and-goal to pull the Yellow Jackets even again at 14-14 with 1:58 left in the half.

But Buford wasn't content to take a tie into the locker room, and it took the Wolves just 1:14 to answer.

Getz did most of the heavy lifting, dashing 33 yards on the first play off the ensuing possession and finishing the five-play, 56-yard march by barreling in from 7 yards out - running over Calhoun's Kedron Aker in the process - with 58 seconds left in the half to give Buford a 21-14 lead heading into intermission.

That drive not only gave the Wolves momentum back, but also foreshadowed what was to come in the second half.

"We just knew we had to respond to everything they had," Getz said. "Our offensive line just started wearing them down."

Indeed, the Buford running game was relentless in the second half, posting 248 yards on the ground after halftime.

"With every team that's close at halftime, we're always a team that comes out in the second half and plays just like we did in the first half," senior center Blake Bennett said. "I'm always confident the other team is going to bow down to us because we play so hard in the second half."

Still, even as the Wolves rumbled through Calhoun's defense for touchdowns by Getz and Jessel Curry on their first two possessions of the third quarter, the Yellow Jackets appeared to keep pace, getting one score back on a 59-yard run by Christian and threatening for another by driving as deep as the Buford 8 late in the period.

But with Buford holding on to a 35-21 lead on third-and-goal from the 12, Jeffrey Gazaway made perhaps the biggest play of the game by picking off a Johnson pass in the end zone with 1:26 left in the quarter.

"It was my first interception of the year," Gazaway said. "That kind of sealed the deal and put the hammer to the nail."

If the interception didn't seal the deal, Buford's 11-play, 83-yard drive that ended with Daniel Villafuerte's 32-yard field goal that stretched the lead to 38-21 with 7:48 to play did.

Getz then applied the exclamation point with his 30-yard touchdown with 6:24 left and the countdown to the celebration began.

"Any coach at any level of football wants their team to play their best at the end of the year," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "We've found that magic now two years in a row."