Buford’s Joshua Thomas (1) dives in for a touchdown over Callaway’s Terry Godwin (4) and Michael Moss (22) during the second half of Friday’s Class AAA semifinal playoff game at Buford. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
BUFORD — Buford’s football team may not be familiar with halftime deficits, or deficits period, this season. But the Wolves have been there before.
In last year’s semifinals, they trailed Cartersville after two quarters before rallying for the win.
The defending Class AAA state champions did it again Friday night in the state semifinals, dominating the second half for a 24-14 win over Callaway and reaching their seventh consecutive state championship game. They move on to play Washington County Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.
“It was a special second half,” said Buford head coach Jess Simpson, whose team has won five state titles in the past six years. “We had a great halftime and made some adjustments. It was fun to see them be behind and have to do something hard, to watch them execute, show their poise, believe and see our seniors step up. That was fun.”
Down 14-7 at halftime, Buford took over when play resumed.
Callaway, averaging 48.7 points in the playoffs, managed just 32 yards and one first down over the final two quarters.
Meanwhile, Buford (14-0) won its 24th straight game and 21st consecutive home playoff game with a pounding rushing attack. The Wolves rushed for 352 yards, including 222 yards on 20 carries from Joshua Thomas.
“Our O-linemen did a great job tonight,” said Thomas, who scored all three Buford touchdowns. “It felt good. We haven’t had competition in awhile. … We came out here, got a stop on defense (to start the third quarter), we scored and we felt great. We had our momentum going. We kept running it, running it. Buford’s known for running it. We’re going to run it until you stop us. Our linemen told me if you keep running hard, we’re going to keep blocking for you.”
Callaway (12-2) took advantage of some good first-half fortune and the playmaking of quarterback Tez Parks for its 14-7 lead at halftime. Parks’ 22-yard TD run in the first quarter gave his team an early lead and his 45-yard pass to Terry Godwin set up a short Eddie Culpepper TD run.
A 26-yard TD run by Thomas provided Buford’s only points of the first half.
But being behind didn’t bother the Wolves, who are 12-0 in state semifinal games since 2000. They weren’t shaken despite facing their first close game of 2013.
“No panic at all,” Buford senior Donte Gordon said. “We had a plan. All we had to do was get it clicking. We just stuck to our plan and played Buford football.”
Buford set the tone quickly in the third quarter, forcing a quick three-and-out from Callaway. Then Thomas led a four-play, 66-yard scoring drive and capped it with a 5-yard, game-tying TD run.
Defensive lineman Shug Frazier intercepted a tipped third-down pass on Callaway’s next possession, giving the Wolves possession at the Cavaliers’ 27-yard line. It took just four plays for Thomas to score on a 6-yard run for Buford’s first lead.
Thomas and Thomas Wilson (14 rushes, 95 yards) continued to share the load and set up a 43-yard field goal by Matthew Bonadies to close the third quarter. The 10-point margin was plenty for the Buford defense, which snuffed out Callaway’s last hope with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter when Gordon made a fourth-down stop.
Then Buford could officially celebrate, satisfied with an impressive second half. The 14-7 halftime deficit was long forgotten by then.
“They were so poised, so excited,” Simpson said of his team’s attitude coming out of halftime. “Our kids are extremely competitive. To get to do this, they were excited about it. They knew it was their moment to prove themselves.”
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BUFORD 24, CALLAWAY 14
Callaway 7 7 0 0 — 14
Buford 7 0 17 0 — 24
Callaway: Tez Parks 22 run (Chase Freeman kick) 3:35
Buford: Joshua Thomas 26 run (Matthew Bonadies kick) :07
Callaway: Eddie Culpepper 1 run (Freeman kick) 4:02
Buford: Thomas 5 run (Bonadies kick) 9:26
Buford: Thomas 6 run (Bonadies kick) 6:26
Buford: Bonadies 43 FG, 1:12
Callaway ---- Buford
First downs 7 ---- 22
Rushes-yards 38-108 ---- 48-352
Passing yards 85 ---- 56
Comp-Att-INT 2-6-1 ---- 5-10-0
Fumbles-lost 3-0 ---- 1-0
Penalties-yards 3-15 ---- 4-32
RUSHING - Callaway: Parks 13-50; Culpepper 15-31; Devon Rosser 7-24; Team 2-3; Cedric Maynard 1-0. Buford: Joshua Thomas 20-222; Thomas Wilson 14-95; Donte Gordon 6-22; Martin Mangram 1-17; Evyn Cooper 1-13; Taylor Mitchell 1-2; Xavier Gantt 1-(-8); Team 4-(-11).
PASSING - Callaway: Parks 2-6-1, 85. Buford: Mitchell 3-4-0, 34; Montgomery VanGorder 2-6-0, 22.
RECEIVING - Callaway: Terry Godwin 1-45; Devon Rosser 1-40. Buford: Cameron Poole 2-24; Tre Neal 1-23; Steven Reese 1-9; David Curry 1-5.
HIGHLIGHTS: Buford vs. Callaway Football
Highlights from the Buford vs. Callaway state semifinal game on Dec. 6, 2013.