By David Purdum / For the AJC
Defending champion Buford knocked off Callaway, 24-14, Friday to advance to the state championship game for the seventh straight year. But it wasn’t easy.
Joshua Thomas rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Wolves overcome their first halftime deficit of the season.
No. 1 Buford will play No. 3 Washington County in the AAA championship game at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 13 in the Georgia Dome.
Tez Parks and Eddie Culpepper ran for touchdowns in the first half for the Cavaliers (12-2), who set a school mark in wins this season.
Buford marched right down the field on the game’s opening possession, but Matthew Bonadies hooked a short field-goal attempt. Callaway responded with quick scoring drive, capped by a 22-yard touchdown run by Parks that put the Cavs ahead 7-0.
After a Thomas touchdown run tied the score, Culpepper plowed in from 1 yard out on 4th and goal to give Callaway the lead back. The Cavaliers ran off the field to a standing ovation from their fans, leading 14-7 at halftime.
“The seniors and I got into the locker room and told everyone that they (Callaway) couldn’t play Buford football for 48 minutes,” star linebacker Korie Rogers said. “There are very few that can.”
Rogers was right. With Georgia coach Mark Richt in attendance, the Wolves took over in the third quarter. They forced a quick three-and-out on Callaway’s opening possession of the second half and then drove 66 yards on gashing runs over the left side by Thomas Wilson and Thomas. Thomas bulled in from 5 yards out to tie the game, 14-14, early in the third quarter.
The Wolves ran left consistently, behind the blocks of Harrison Morgan, Nick Polino, Caleb Auer and Isaac Nauta.
An interception of a batted ball by Buford defensive tackle Shug Frazier set up another Thomas touchdown run in the third quarter, putting the Wolves up 21-14. Bonadies would make up for his early miss by nailing a 44-yard field goal that put the Wolves up two scores, heading into the fourth quarter
The final eight minutes were played in a soaking rain storm that blew in while Buford mounted a time-consuming drive from its own 2-yard line. The drive would end with a turnover on downs at the Callaway 20-yard line, but it took five minutes off the clock and sealed the win.
“That was the first time these guys to had to do something really, really hard, being behind at halftime,” said Buford coach Jess Simpson. “You know it’s in them. We’ve seen them do it in years past, but to see them do it in this environment was just fun. It’s what high school football is all about.”
Callaway 7 7 0 0 — 14
Buford 7 0 17 0 — 24
C – Tez Parks 22 run (Chase Freeman kick) – 3:35
B – Joshua Thomas 26 run (Matthew Bonadies kick) — :07
C – Eddie Culpepper 1 run (Freeman kick)
B – Thomas 5 run (Bonadies kick)
B – Thomas 6 run (Bonadies kick)
B – Bonadies 44 field goal