DAWSONVILLE -- The Buford boys basketball team went into last year's state tournament as a No. 3 seed and had to pull off some upsets to reach the state title game.
Buford was the No. 2 seed this year, but couldn't use that same magic for another close win in the Class AA state tournament on Wednesday.
Dawson County's Gunnar Armstrong hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with less than three minutes in the game. That lifted the host Tigers to a 42-35 win in front of an electric crowd of 1,750 fans in the second round of the state playoffs.
"It's the biggest win in the history of our school, maybe in all sports," Dawson County coach Thad Burgess. "When you've beat a team like Buford, you've beaten the elite."
The win sends No. 9 ranked Dawson County (25-6) to its first trip to the Elite Eight since 1969. The Tigers will face Jordan, who defeated Coosa 75-58, in the quarterfinals on Friday at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
"Buford is very, very good," Burgess said. "It's hard to believe we could do that."
The No. 8 ranked Wolves (22-8) came into the second round fresh off a 79-60 first round win over Spencer. Georgia State signee T.J. Shipes had 33 points in that game, but was held to 12 on Wednesday.
Buford had a 28-25 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Wolves ran the clock down for the next three minutes and tried to hit a shot in the final 15 seconds.
However, Buford turned the ball over and Dawson's Tyler Dominy hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game.
"We were holding for that last shot," Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. "We were resting for the fourth-quarter push."
The momentum helped Dawson as it outscored Buford 14-7 in the final period.
"That was perfect for us," Burgess said. "We only play five guys. It allowed us to catch our breath. That 3 at the buzzer gave us life."
Buford took one last lead at 33-32 on a Shipes putback with 3:44 left in the game. But then Armstrong knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game and hit two free throws with 14 seconds left to seal the win.
"He's our best shooter," Burgess said. "We knew they were going to try and take Dominy away."
Armstrong scored 14 points, while Dominy was the game's leading scorer with 15.
"The Dominy kid can play," Whitehart said.
Shipes scored Buford's first six points of the game to build a 6-2 lead. A.J. Davis added a layup on an assist from Kyle Kellam, but Dawson tied the game on Armstrong's 3.
Armstrong hit his third 3 to give Dawson a 16-14 lead late in the first half.
"That was in our scouting report," Whitehart said. "We said if you gamble and leave him open, he will hit 3's. They hit six of them."
Davis guided Buford's charge at the end of the half. The son of former NBA player Antonio Davis and Division I college prospect hit a jumper, two free throws and assisted Brad Mapes on his dunk to give the Wolves a 20-16 halftime lead. Davis finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
Davis led Buford's charge to start the second half, hitting a 3 to give the Wolves a 26-18 lead. But Dawson chipped away over the next five minutes and tied the game with Dominy's 3 to shift the momentum of the game.
"We lost our rhythm and didn't get it back," Whitehart said. "We made some poor decisions in the fourth quarter trying to get that quick fix."
Buford will graduate six seniors, including two starters in Shipes and Kellam.
"I hate it for our seniors," Whitehart said. "Sometimes you have learn from things. We have to take this as a learning experience."