Photo: Karl L. Moore Buford running back Joshua Thomas (26) celebrates in the endzone after putting his team ahead with a touchdown during Friday night's game at Cartersville.
HIGHLIGHTS: Buford vs. Cartersville
Highlights from the Buford vs. Cartersville football game in the Class AAA state semifinals. The Wolves won 21-10.
CARTERSVILLE -- Buford advanced to its sixth straight state championship game, overcoming a 10-0 start by Cartersville to win 21-10 in Class AAA semifinal action Friday at Weinmann Stadium.
The Wolves (11-3) took more than a quarter to get comfortable as Cartersville played with a lot of emotion on its home field. However, three interceptions by the Wolves' defense helped lead to 21 unanswered points as Buford won 21-10.
"It's one of those nights where our guys refused to fall," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said.
The turning point of the game came late in the second quarter with Cartersville (13-1) having the ball on its own 18-yard line with less than three minutes left in the half. Then, Buford's Korie Rogers picked off Cartersville quarterback Brooks Barden to set up the Wolves with a first down on the 16-yard line.
"You can't turn the ball over there," Cartersville head coach Frank Barden said.
Buford turned that turnover into seven points as Dontravious Wilson took it in from the 2-yard line to bring the score to within 10-7 at halftime.
The Wolves seemed to be gaining the momentum midway through the second quarter, but penalties cost them a shot at taking the lead. A double-reverse pass went for a touchdown, but it was called back on a holding penalty. Two plays later, the Wolves had to punt.
The Canes drove the ball on the next drive, picking up a first down on third-and-inches with a personal-foul penalty being tacked on at the end of the run. However, three plays later, Thomas Wilson came up with Buford's second interception of the game (equaling Barden's season total).
Buford turned that interception into seven more points, driving 40 yards in seven plays. Joshua Thomas' score from the 3-yard line on fourth-and-one gave the Wolves their first lead of the game, 14-10.
"After losing 20 starters from last year, I figured we were playing with house money, so why not go for it," Simpson said.
After Cartersville was forced to punt, Buford again drove the ball, getting a 36-yard run by Thomas Wilson down to the 24-yard line. After three plays, the Wolves were faced with another fourth down, which Simpson went for again, getting a 14-yard completion to Isaac Nauta for another touchdown.
"I didn't want to go for the field goal and leave them with some hope," Simpson said. "I felt like we had the right play and we could make it a two-score game. If we could do that, then I knew we'd win the game."
The Wolves sealed the deal on the first play of Cartersville's next possession as Barden was intercepted for a third time.
"A credit to Brooks for everything he's done for Cartersville," Simpson said. "He's a great player."
From there, Buford ran the final 5:09 off the clock to finish of the Canes.
"Our guys battled," Barden said. "We just came up short."
Dontravious Wilson led the team on the ground with 76 yards on 17 carries, while Thomas Wilson added 55 yards on five carries. Barden finished the game 14-for-22 for 201 yards, while receiver Hayes Linn had five catches for 95 yards.
Buford will now play in its sixth-straight state title game which is something Simpson could never have fathomed.
"The only way you get to that point is by preparing each week as if you're going to get beat," he said. "Our players trust the plan and that's why we've been so successful."