Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Buford's Darrian Smith (26), Blake Adams (47) and Andre Johnson (32) react as the Wolves score the winning touchdown in overtime against Calhoun in the Class AA state championship Friday at the Georgia Dome. Buford beat the Yellow Jackets 31-24 for its fourth straight title.
ATLANTA — This was supposed to be a down year for Buford.
If anyone was going to dethrone the Wolves as Class AA’s No. 1 team, this was the time to do it.
In Friday’s state championship game at the Georgia Dome, it was the same result as the previous three seasons. Just a little closer than usual.
Dominique Swope scored on a nine-yard run in overtime to give Buford a 31-24 victory over Calhoun and defend it Class AA state title.
It’s the third straight season Buford (14-1) has defeated Calhoun (14-1) for the championship and the fourth consecutive state title for the Wolves. Buford joins West Rome, a state champion from 1982-85, as the only Georgia schools to win four in a row.
“That was a shootout now. Both teams played their guts out,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. “We made a play and that was the difference. It was unreal.”
With a Buford senior class that didn’t have any major Division I players like previous years, the Wolves weren’t expected to repeat. Carver-Columbus was the favorite after beating the Wolves in Week 2 of the regular season. The two teams were expected to meet again in the finals, but Calhoun changed that with a win over Carver in the semifinals.
Buford used a dominant running game and forced turnovers in its last two title wins over Calhoun. The formula worked again on Friday with the Wolves gaining 196 yards on the ground and Ryan Dillard scoring on a fumble return.
“No one thought we could do this,” Buford quarterback Alex Ross said. “Calhoun was 14-0 and we put a stop to them.”
It looked like it was going to be another blowout for the Wolves, who improved to 9-0 all-time in the Georgia Dome. Kurt Freitag scored on a 24-yard pass early in the third quarter to take a 24-7 lead.
Calhoun answered with the next 17 points, including Adam Griffith’s 45-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to force overtime.
“We had the lead and they kept making plays. We had to hang in there,” Simpson said.
Swope, who played with a turf toe injury, scored in the first overtime on a nine-yard run and then Freitag came up with two big plays to keep Calhoun from tying it again. The junior tackled Dustin Christian for a seven-yard loss on third down and then pressured quarterback Landon Curtis into throwing a short pass on fourth down to seal the win.
Rick LeGrant and Andre Johnson each made five tackles for the Wolves, while Dillon Lee, Paris Head, Malik Green and Dillard each had four.
“Two plays. I would probably give my life for this team and those two plays were everything I had,” Freitag said. “Overtime came and a switch went on. We wanted that. We’ve been eyeing this one since August.”
The championship is the seventh state title for Buford since 2001 and eighth all-time.
Buford opened the game with an 80-yard drive for a 7-0 lead. Eric Barr had a 37-yard run that set up Seon Jones’ four-yard score. Barr was the Wolves’ leading rusher with 78 yards on 18 carries.
The Wolves added another TD less than 30 seconds later when Dillard picked up a Christian fumble on Calhoun’s third play of the game. Dillard went 58 yards to give Buford a 14-0 lead.
“That was so lucky. When that stuff happens you feel a little lucky,” Simpson said.
Calhoun cut the deficit early in the second quarter with a three-yard score by Christian. The senior, who is committed to Tennessee-Chattanooga, had 77 yards rushing and four catches for 27 yards.
Buford countered with a 73-yard drive, but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by David Petroni to go up 17-7 at the half. The lead was pushed to 24-7 in the third quarter when Ross hit Freitag for a 24-yard score.
Ross was a perfect 9 of 9 for 100 yards in the first half and 12 of 15 for 139 yards in the game. He didn’t throw an incompletion until 8:30 left in the contest.
The game started to unravel for Buford after it took the big lead.
With the help of a personal foul and a kickoff out of bounds, Calhoun started its drive at the 50. The Yellow Jackets needed just five plays before Christian scored his second TD on an eight-yard run to make it 24-14.
“We lost the momentum a little bit, but just kept competing,” said Dillard, who also had an interception in the game.
C.J. Moore intercepted a Curtis pass in the end zone to end a Calhoun scoring threat. Buford went three and out and after a face mask on the punt, the Yellow Jackets needed just two plays for a score. Curtis hit Chase Rierson for a 30-yard touchdown and made it 24-21. Curtis was 13 of 27 for 171 yards.
Calhoun tied the game with 10 seconds left on Griffith’s 45-yard field goal to force overtime.
But Swope came through with his biggest score of his career to give Buford another championship.
“Calhoun played a great game, I’m not gonna lie,” Swope said. “It turned out to be a great game.”
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