Photo: John Amis
Buford quarterback Alex Ross (9) holds up the state championship trophy as he and teammates celebrate their 31-24 win over Calhoun in overtime of the Class AA finals Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — Buford set the tone for its fourth Class AA state championship on the game’s opening drive.
The Wolves went 80 yards on eight plays for Seon Jones’ four-yard touchdown run.
Alex Ross hit Trey Jerkins on third down for a 15-yard gain and on the next play Eric Barr went 37 yards to the Buford three.
“I didn’t expect that,” Simpson said of the drive. “That was big because we knew we had to score early against them.”
It was one of two offensive possessions for the Wolves in the first quarter and the second one didn’t go as well. Buford had fourth-and-two at the 25, but a delay of game hurt the Wolves. Ross was sacked to give Calhoun the ball back.
Calhoun only ran seven offensive plays in the first quarter with one first down. They had the ball for just 1:22.
Staub makes return for finals
Buford junior Nathan Staub had been relegated to one of his team’s biggest cheerleaders in recent weeks, missing the past seven games with a torn MCL in his right knee.
The injury nearly ended his season, but the junior linebacker/fullback returned for spot duty in Friday’s state championship game. He was hobbled by a heavily wrapped knee that still needs time to recover, though it couldn’t keep him from contributing to another Buford title.
“I definitely wasn’t at full strength,” Staub said. “Anything I could do to help the team I wanted to do. ... I went to rehab for four and a half hours a day, but it was worth it to get back for this.”
Anyone who hasn’t heard of Buford defensive back Ryan Dillard got to hear the junior’s name plenty on Friday.
Dillard returned a fumble 58 yards on Calhoun’s third play of the game for a touchdown to give Buford a 14-0 lead.
“I saw the ball on the ground and scooped it up,” Dillard said. “We practice scoop and score all the time.”
Dillard then added an interception late in the second quarter, his first of the season.
Dillard, who has already drawn interest from several major Division I colleges and has an offer from Harvard, finished with two tackles and a pass breakup.
Who’s running it?
During Buford’s previous title runs, the Wolves relied one or two key running backs. It worked in years past with Darius Walker in the early 2000s, Demetris Murray in 2007 and Cody Getz in 2008.
In Friday’s state championship game, five different players got significant carries.
Seon Jones, the team’s leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards, led the charge Friday with 78 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. But it was Dominique Swope who came up with the biggest carry. The senior scored on a nine-yard run in overtime to lift Buford to the win. Swope finished with 34 yards on eight carries, while playing with turf toe.
A big part of Calhoun’s second-half comeback was due to penalties. Buford committed 15 in the game for 110 yards.
“We had some bad personnel issues getting the right people on the field in the first half and part of that is playing in the Dome,” Simpson said. “Offensively, we had some had some things go wrong.”
With Buford ahead 24-21 late in the fourth quarter and on its own 10, the Wolves had two offside penalties by the offensive line. The Wolves had to punt out of their end zone and the short field allowed Calhoun to set up the game-tying field goal.
Star studded return
Buford appears poised to win an unprecedented fifth state title. The Wolves only lose six senior starters from Friday’s game, including four on offense.
Many of the Wolves’ best players are juniors, including offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, tight end/defensive end Kurt Freitag, linebacker Dillon Lee and defensive backs Dillard, C.J. Moore and Paris Head.
The group has already drawn the attention of some of the top college programs in the Southeast. The college coaches were out in full force on the sidelines on Friday, led by Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels.
If you are having problems viewing this slide show, click here