By Stan Awtrey
For the AJC
Buford capped off its two-year run in Class AAA by setting a single-season scoring record and beat Washington County 35-19 to win a second straight state championship.
The Wolves finished the season with 707 points to eclipse the mark of 682 set by Dublin in 2007. Buford won its 10th state championship and their sixth title over the last seven years. Buford, which will move up to AAAA next year, went 29-1 on the field in two seasons of AAA competition.
“It was a special year, a special team,” Buford coach Jesse Simpson said. “Our senior leadership has been outstanding. It’s unbelievable the way they’ve prepared.”
Buford (15-0) has too many Thomases for Washington County. Thomas Wilson carried 14 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns and Joshua Thomas ran 15 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns for the Wolves, who finished with 395 total yards. Thomas led the team with eight tackles and Wilson had six tackles.
Washington County (13-1) was led by quarterback A.J. Gray, who completed 16 of 30 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Eight of those passes went to D.J. Sanders for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
But Buford shut down the Washington County running game and allowed the Hawks, who boasted three 1,000-yard rushers, to gain for only 42 yards on the ground. Melvin Hill was limited to 22 yards on 10 carries and Gray, who was sacked four times, had 16 yards.
Washington County, inspired by a pregame pep talk from alumni Takeo Spikes, who played 15 years in the NFL, jumped out to a 13-0 lead.
The Golden Hawks scored on the first play of the second quarter when Gray, under pressure from Buford’s Donte Gordon, threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Sanders, who had slipped past the secondary.
A Buford mistake enabled Washington County to score its second touchdown. Buford’s David Curry was forced to re-do a punt due to a penalty. Hill, who had called for a fair catch on the first punt, fielded the mulligan and turned it up the left sideline for an 86-yard touchdown. The kick was no good, but Washington County had a 13-0 lead, something that no team had enjoyed against the Wolves all season.
Buford finally scored with less than a minute left in the half. Taylor Mitchell fired a pass to Isaac Nauta on the right hashmark and the big sophomore tight end fought through a tackle and ran for a 43-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left, a play that may have changed the momentum of the game.
Buford took the lead on its first possession of the third quarter thanks to a Washington County mistake. The Golden Hawks had a 57-yard reception negated because of holding and were forced to punt two plays later. Buford returned the short punt to the 28 and scored on the first play when Thomas Wilson took a pitch off left tackle and ran untouched for a touchdown. An extra point by Matthew Bonadies gave the Wolves a 14-13 lead.
The Wolves went ahead 21-13 with a score on the first play of the fourth period. On third-and-3, Joshua Thomas took a pitch off left tackle and ran through a large hole for an 18-yard touchdown.
Washington County gambled on fourth-and-1 at its own 41 yard line with nine minutes left. Gray was going to keep the ball on a draw, but was slammed at the line by Clemson commitment Korie Rogers, with Thomas finishing the play. Two plays later Wilson scored on a 35-yard burst up the middle to give Buford a 28-13 lead.
Washington County wasn’t ready to quit. The Hawks struck again on a long pass from Gray to Sanders for 64 yards, but the two-point conversion run was stuffed by Thomas, as Buford held the lead at 28-19.
Buford iced the game by driving 78 yards in eight plays, with Thomas scoring from the 5.
Washington County 0 13 0 6 — 19
Buford 0 7 7 21 –35
WC – D.J. Sanders 41 pass from A.J. Gray (Jed May kick)
WC – Melvin Hill 86 punt return (kick failed)
B – Isaac Nauta 43 pass from Taylor Mitchell (Matthew Bonadies kick)
B – Thomas Wilson 28 run (Bonadies kick)
B – Joshua Thomas 18 run (Bonadies kick)
B – Wilson 35 run (Bonadies kick)
WC – Sanders 64 pass from Gray (run failed)
B – Thomas 5 run (Bonadies kick)