Buford quarterback Alexander Ross (9) gets taken down by Fitzgerald's Michael Troutman (6) during Friday's Class AA state semifinal game in Fitzgerald. Ross ran for 57 yards and threw for 231 yards.
FITZGERALD -- Buford gave new meaning to the term "four-down territory" in Friday night's Class AA state semifinal game with Fitzgerald.
The No. 3 state-ranked Wolves converted five of six plays on fourth down, including two touchdowns, keying their 38-28 win over the second-ranked Purple Hurricane on Friday at Jaycee Stadium.
"I didn't come down here to lose," Buford coach Jess Simpson said after the Wolves improved to 13-1 and secured their eighth trip to the state finals this decade. "As a coach, I knew (Fitzgerald's) offense was going to score points, and I knew that field goals weren't going to win the game.
"We kind of had to have that mentality. Play to win."
That, the Wolves did, especially a couple of individuals who came up huge on fourth-down conversions at critical times in the game.
The first was tight end Kurt Freitag, who may have earned himself the nickname "Fourth-Down Freitag" with his heroics on a pair of conversions.
The first came in the waning moments of the first half with the game tied 14-14.
Buford drove 65 yards to the Fitzgerald 2-yard line -- keyed by Freitag's 51-yard reception from Alexander Ross -- before stalling on three straight running plays, leaving the Wolves with fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 1:29 left in the first half.
Electing to go for it, Simpson had Ross fake a handoff and roll out before finding a wide open Freitag in the back of the end zone with 1:24 left in the half, allowing Buford to take a 21-14 lead into intermission.
Freitag's next fourth-down grab was even more clutch, this time from 24 yards out on fourth-and-6 on a similar play to help the Wolves break a tie and regain the lead at 28-21 with 8:04 left in the third quarter.
"I knew in the back of my head that if there was no one else open, they were coming to me," said the sophomore tight end, who entered the game with just eight receptions on the field, but had five catches for a team-best 86 yards Friday night. "I just tried my best to get open and get to a spot in the field they (Fitzgerald) weren't.
"I trust a whole lot in my quarterback and my offensive line that helps protect him. All I have to do is just be there, and the ball will be there."
Indeed, Ross earned quite a bit of trust with his own fourth-down heroics Friday night. In addition to the two touchdown passes, he also added perhaps the biggest fourth-down conversion of all with time running out.
With the Wolves clinging to a 31-28 lead, they faced fourth-and-4 at the Fitzgerald 25 with less than three minutes to play.
Ross dropped back and rolled out to his left under heavy pressure before tucking the ball and dashing out of the pocket towards the left sideline.
He not only scampered 11 yards to pick up the first down, he had the presence of mind to slide down and remain in bounds to keep the clock running after the chains were moved.
"I just rolled out and my line is so tall, I really couldn't see anything," said Ross, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns, and added 54 yards on five carries on the ground. "But I just saw a hole up the middle, so I just took off.
"When I got near the sideline, I knew we had to keep the clock running, so I slid."
The move paid off, and when Jessel Curry scored his third touchdown of the game -- and second on the ground -- with his 1-yard run with 20 seconds left, the Wolves had finally downgraded the Purple Hurricane and earned yet another trip to the Georgia Dome.