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Emotional roller coaster leaves Wolves feeling low

Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford's Dillon Lee (22) and Ryan Dillard (28) keep to themselves while Calhoun players celebrate defeating Buford 27-24 during overtime in the Class AA state championship game played in the Georgia Dome Friday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford's Dillon Lee (22) and Ryan Dillard (28) keep to themselves while Calhoun players celebrate defeating Buford 27-24 during overtime in the Class AA state championship game played in the Georgia Dome Friday.

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Buford vs. Calhoun state title game highlights

Highlights from Buford's 27-24 overtime loss to Calhoun in the Class AA state title game on Dec. 9, 2011.

Highlights from Buford's 27-24 overtime loss to Calhoun in the Class AA state title game on Dec. 9, 2011.

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Buford linebacker Dillon Lee (22) recovers a fumble and returns it for a touchdown sending the game to overtime in the Calhoun Yellow Jackets 27-24 overtime victory over the Buford Wolves in the GHSA State Finals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford head coach Jess Simpson talks to his team after Buford was defeated by Calhoun 27-24 during overtime, in the Class AA state championship game played in the Georgia Dome Friday.

ATLANTA -- In any championship football game, there are supposed to be peaks and valleys.

But few have produced wider gaps between the two in their totality than there were in the final minutes of Buford's 27-24 overtime loss to Calhoun in the Class AA state championship game Friday at the Georgia Dome.

The Wolves went from the deepest low of what seemed a certain defeat trailing by two touchdowns with less than two minutes to play in regulation to the highest of highs after an improbable series of events allowed them to force overtime.

Then they fell to rock bottom following Adam Griffith's 32-yard field goal in the extra frame that allowed the Yellow Jackets to finally break Buford's string of four straight titles.

It was a roller coaster ride that would've put any attraction at Six Flags to shame.

"I can't remember being that up and down," a shocked Buford coach Jess Simpson said afterwards. "That's probably one of the most up and down. The bottom line is Calhoun outplayed us and outcoached us. They were better. We were lucky to be in it there at the end. We just kept hanging in."

It couldn't have been easy for Buford (14-1) to keep hanging in after it looked like Calhoun (15-0) had sealed the game on Heath Everett's apparent interception of a Sam Clay pass and a two-touchdown lead with 1:22 remaining in regulation.

But that's when the roller coaster started going up for the Wolves as two penalty flags for separate 15-yard personal foul penalties on Calhoun -- one during the play and one after -- not only gave Buford the ball back, but field position at the Jackets' 24-yard line.

Clay's 24-yard touchdown pass to Paris Head on the next play gave the Wolves further life by cutting the deficit to 24-17 with 1:12 left.

The next downhill turn came when Buford could not cover the ensuing onside kick, but it turned out to be a small, temporary dip after Simpson exhausted all three of his timeouts to force Calhoun into a punting situation, which set the stage for the Wolves' zenith.

The snap short-hopped Jackets punter Zane Rhodes and Andre' Johnson zoomed in to force the ball free into the air, where Dillon Lee snagged it for a 40-yard fumble return and a touchdown.

The score not only tied the game at 24-24 with just 39 seconds remaining, it also sent the Buford bench and partisans among the Georgia Dome crowd into delirium, while sending the Calhoun side into a state of shock.

"With two minutes to go, we're taking headsets off. We think we're celebrating," Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb said. "That last couple of minutes, I really didn't know what to think. I've never really been in a situation like that where we're up 14 points with a little over two minutes to go, and lo and behold, it's tied.

"But our kids believed in what we're trying to do."

But just as quickly as fortunes changed sidelines, they switched yet again.

What looked like a solid 7-yard gain by Johnson on Buford's first snap of the overtime period wound up as the Wolves' fourth turnover of the game when Everett snatched the loose ball out of midair at the 8-yard line.

Lamb wasted little time in sending Griffith right onto the field, and the Alabama-bound senior delivered by splitting the uprights for his fourth field goal of the game from 32 yards out to finally put an end to the emotional thrill ride for both teams.

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