Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Buford's Colston Vukanovich (19) and Jaylen Mize (4) celebrate the Class AAA state championship with their teammates following the Wolves' 10-3 win over St. Pius on Friday night. This is the Wolves 5th championship in the past six years.
ATLANTA -- Dontravious Wilson's 39-yard touchdown run may have ultimately been the deciding points in Buford's Class AAA state championship game against St. Pius X.
But make no mistake, the 10-3 victory Friday at the Georgia Dome that gave the Wolves (12-3) their fifth state title in the last six years -- and eighth in the last 11 years -- can best be described as old school.
Despite being outgained in total yardage 184-178, Buford came up with a stout defensive effort -- led by eight tackles each from Bryson Jordan and Deion King -- and just enough offense to earn a hard-fought, physical win.
"I knew playing (St. Pius X's) defense, it would be tough sledding," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "But I knew we had a recipe for winning. If you watched how we played defense the whole year, with the exception of a half here (and there), ... (Friday) night was probably the most yards we've given up. To give up 180 (yards) and three points, I knew we had a chance to do that."
In fact, the Wolves held St. Pius X (12-3) and its triple-option offense some 28 yards under its season average of 212.
But it looked like the Golden Lions would gain the upper hand early after they marched 56 yards in 13 plays, picking up three third-down conversions in the process, and draining eight minutes off the clock.
However, with St. Pius facing fourth and 2 at the Buford 24-yard line, the Wolves' Korie Rogers stuffed Ryan Braswell a yard short of the first down to keep the game scoreless, and give the Wolves a big emotional boost.
"They were burning that clock on us," said senior defensive lineman Mikey Bart, who finished with four tackles, including two of Buford's seven sacks of St. Pius X quarterback Jack Spear. "But that just gave us more opportunities."
Still, opportunities were hard to come by, thanks to both defenses.
Buford held St. Pius to three-and-outs on the Golden Lions' remaining three possessions of the half, while the Wolves didn't fare much better.
St. Pius knocked Wilson for a yard loss on fourth-and-2 at the Golden Lions' 39 early in the second quarter and David Marsau recovered a Buford fumble at midfield with 3:08 left in the half.
But after another St. Pius punt, the Wolves got the ball back on their own 23 with 1:33 left in the half, and made the possession count.
A 20-yard run by Zavior Hoxie and a key 10-yard defensive holding penalty gave Buford a scoring opportunity, and Matt Bonadies cashed in with a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half, sending the Wolves into intermission with a 3-0 lead.
"That was huge," Simpson said. "We've been behind at halftime the last two weeks. So to go in at 3-0, I was walking in going, 'OK, this is three our four points better than what we've been doing. So, this is a great deal.' And I felt like we'd be able to run the ball at some point."
And Buford was finally able to run the ball a bit in the second half, but not before being given a chance to come up big by more hard work from the defense.
The Wolves withstood another long St. Pius X drive, this one a 10-play, 35-yard drive that ate 5:17 off the clock, and held the Golden Lions to Thomas O'Leary's 47-yard field goal that tied the game 3-3 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
And after Buford smothered Braswell again for its third stop on four St. Pius X fourth-down opportunities, the Wolves' offense had its chance early in the fourth quarter.
"The (offensive) line battled all night," said Wilson, who had been held to just 2 yards in the first half, but finished with 69 yards on 12 carries. "I just told them to continue block like they (were), we were going to break one."
Sure enough, facing fourth and 1 at the Golden Lions' 39-yard line, Wilson not only picked up the first-down yardage, he bounced the play to the outside and sped down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown to put Buford in front 10-3 with 9:10 remaining.
And it put the game in the hands of a now confident Buford defense.
'"That was a big touchdown," Jordan said. "Just all around, the defense stepped up. We played as a team."
And with time running short and knowing St. Pius X, which threw the ball an average of just six times per game, would have to take to the air, the Wolves came at Spear with a pack mentality.
"In a triple option offense, when they have to start passing, that means they're in a bad position," said Bart, who also contributed offensively with two receptions for 20 yards. "Once we saw them passing at the end, ... we knew our fast defensive backs could keep (the play) in front of them."
Taking the ball at their own 46 with no timeouts and just 2:10 left, the Golden Lions did pick up one first down on Spear's 15-yard completion to J.P. Graves.
But sacks by Tyler Shipman and Donte' Gordon, the latter on fourth down at the St. Pius X 40 with 33 seconds left, applied the the exclamation point.
"We felt like we had a good scheme," Rogers said. "With their triple option, it's hard to defend, but the coaches did a phenomenal job getting us ready. We did a good job working hard in practice all week and it paid off."
Buford 10, St. Pius 3
Buford 0 3 0 7 — 10
St. Pius 0 0 3 0 — 3
Buford: Matt Bonadies 43 FG, 0:04
St. Pius: Thomas O’Leary 47 FG, 4:38
Buford: Dontravious Wilson 39 run (Bonadies kick), 9:10
Buf St. Pius
First downs 7 9
Rushes-yards 28-125 41-104
Passing yards 53 80
Comp-Att.-Int. 5-9-0 4-10-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 4-20 5-40
Rushing — Buford: D. Wilson 12-69, Zavior Hoxie 3-27, Joshua Thomas 4-23, Thomas Wilson 4-21, Montgomery Van Gorder 1-(-1), TEAM 2-(-2), Taylor Mitchell 2-(-16). St. Pius X: Ryan Braswell 15-71, Jack Spear 18-20, Nick Ruffin 1-8, Branden Mitchell 7-5.
Passing — Buford: Van Gorder 2-4-0, 32; T. Mitchell 3-5-0, 21. St. Pius X: Spear 10-20-0, 80.
Receiving — Buford: Mikey Bart 2-20, Tre’ Neal 2-9, Jaylen Mize 1-24. St. Pius X: Matt Pearson 2-49, J.P. Graves 1-15, Ruffin 1-16.