Buford’s Montgomery VanGorder (14), head coach Jess Simpson, Donte’ Gordon (36), Taylor Mitchell (10) and Korie Rogers (43) hoist the Class AAA state championship trophy after defeating Washington County at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
ATLANTA — With a season full of blowout victories, Buford’s football team showed it could rally in the second half on Friday.
Thomas Wilson scored the go-head touchdown in the third quarter and Buford never looked back as it rallied to beat Washington County 35-19 in the Class AAA state championship at the Georgia Dome.
The victory gives Buford its sixth state championship in seven seasons as it repeats as the Class AAA champs.
“It’s my senior year. This is the way you want to go out,” an emotional Wilson said after the game. “We haven’t had an undefeated season in awhile.”
Buford finishes the year 15-0 for the first time since 2008. If a state title and undefeated season weren’t enough, Buford also set the single-season state scoring record with 707 points. The previous record was held by Dublin’s 2006 team with 282.
“I’m so happy for this team and this group of seniors,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said.
Buford trailed 13-0 late in the first half until Isaac Nauta caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Mitchell with 13 seconds left in the quarter. Nauta also made three tackles for loss and two sacks on defense. Mitchell was 6 of 11 passing for 126 yards.
“We got lucky just to be down six at the half,” Simpson said. “That was as poor of a first half we’ve played all year.”
In the first half, Buford’s offense had four punts, a fumble and a missed field goal.
“Boy, it was pitifully slow,” Simpson said of the offense.
The Wolves didn’t help themselves by being called for an illegal formation and forced to punt again. That allowed Melvin Hill to return the second kick 86 yards for a touchdown. After the PAT failed, Washington County led 13-0 with 6:31 in the half.
It was the second time in as many weeks Buford trailed at halftime. The Wolves were down to Callaway in the semifinals a week ago and rallied to win. Buford averaged 48 points a game this season and most of them were decided by halftime.
Buford took the lead on its first play of the second half and scored on four of its five possessions.
After a big punt return by Wilson, the senior scored on a 28-yard run to put Buford ahead 14-13. The Wolves never trailed again in the half. Wilson had 14 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
“If Buford has had a better player than him in all three phases of the game, I can’t think of one,” Simpson said. “In the running game, return game and cover corner, he did it all.”
Joshua Thomas added an 18-yard touchdown run to put Buford ahead 21-13 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Thomas had 94 yards rushing and two TDs and made seven tackles on defense.
Buford linebacker Korie Rogers, a Clemson commit, had a big hit on Washington County quarterback A.J. Gray on fourth down to give Buford the ball back.
“That’s two years in the Georgia Dome we needed a big play and he made it,” Simpson said.
Buford’s defense held Washington County (13-1), which was averaging 50 points a game, to its lowest point total of the season. Gray threw for 231 yards on 16 of 30 passing and the Washington County had just 42 yards rushing.
After Rogers’ big stop, Wilson scored his second TD on a 35-yard run to put Buford ahead 28-13 with 8:09 left in the game.
Washington County answered with Gray throwing a 64-yard pass to D.J. Sanders. Gray also threw a 41-yard TD pass to Sanders in the first half. Sanders had eight catches for 169 yards.
Buford chewed up nearly five minutes on the clock and Thomas scored on a five-yard run with 1:40 left in the game to put it away.
BUFORD 35, WASHINGTON COUNTY 19
Washington County 0 13 0 6 — 19
Buford 0 7 7 21 — 35
Washington County: D.J. Sanders 41 pass from A.J. Gray (Jed May kick) 11:53
Washington County: Melvin Hill 86 punt return (kick failed) 6:31
Buford: Isaac Nauta 43 pass from Taylor Mitchell (Matt Bonadies kick) :13
Buford: Thomas Wilson 28 run (Bonadies kick) 10:15
Buford: Joshua Thomas 18 run (Bonadies kick) 11:55
Buford: Wilson 35 run (Bonadies kick) 8:09
Washington County: Sanders 64 pass from Gray (two-point conversion failed) 6:40
Buford: Thomas 5 run (Bonadies kick) 1:40
Wash Co. ---- Buford
First downs 12 ---- 15
Rushes-yards 26-42 ---- 39-228
Comp-Att-Int 16-30-0 ---- 8-14-1
Passing yards 231 ---- 167
Penalties-yards 3-28 ---- 9-47
Fumbles-lost 3-1 ---- 1-1
RUSHING — Buford: Thomas Wilson 14-118; Joshua Thomas 15-94; Evyn Cooper 2-9; Xavier Gantt 1-6; Donte Gordon 2-3; Steven Reese 1-2; Taylor Mitchell 3-(-3). Washington County: Melvin Hill 10-22; A.J. Gray 15-16; Danyale Wicker 1-4.
PASSING — Buford: Taylor Mitchell 6-11-0, 126. Montgomery Van Gorder 2-3-1, 41. Washington County: A.J. Gray 16-30-0, 231.
RECEIVING — Buford: Isaac Nauta 3-82; Tre Neal 3-56; Thomas Wilson 2-29. Washington County: D.J. Sanders 8-169; Josh Burden 3-29; Melvin Hill 2-16; Jaquavious Latimer 1-7; Bryson Jones 1-6; Logan Hunt 1-4.
Buford Wolves Class AAA State Football Champions
Sights and sounds from the Buford and Washington County Class AAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Buford defeated Washington County 35-19 giving them their sixth championship in seven years.