By Stephen Black
The Gold and Green train is back on the tracks. After a one-year absence off the podium on the final weekend of the high school football season, Jess Simpson’s Wolves are back on top after a 10-3 win in the Class AAA championship game over a tenacious St. Pius X squad.
“These kids are stubborn,” said Buford coach Jess Simpson. “They wouldn’t give in. And they had a decided heart. They made up their minds this is what they were going to do tonight.”
It was Buford’s fifth state title in six seasons.
A 39-yard run on fourth-and-two by Dontravious Wilson broke a 3-3 tie with 9:30 left in the ballgame. Wilson’s dramatic touchdown will not soon be forgotten at the Gwinnett high school.
“That’s going to go down in the history books of Buford as one of the greatest runs,” said an emotional Simpson. “It was blocked beautifully and he made a play. We felt like we had to make one play and we could put a lot of pressure on them, and we did it.”
The senior tailback finished the game with 72 yards on 17 carries. Wilson’s scoring jaunt put pressure on a St. Pius offense not used to playing from behind. And with a seven-point lead, the Wolves’ defense smelled blood.
“They hit a (big) play, and we just couldn’t move the ball well enough to do anything consistently,” said St. Pius X head coach Paul Standard. “Late in the game we just had to throw it, and that’s not our forte. They knew we were going to have to throw and they could just pin their ears back and come at us.”
In the first half, a stop on fourth-and-two by Korie Rogers on Pius fullback Ryan Braswell ended an epic Golden Lions’ opening drive that took up more than half of the first quarter.
The teams then swapped possessions in the second quarter before a defensive holding call on St. Pius kept a Buford drive alive just before the half. Kicker Mathew Bonadies drilled a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left for the first points of the game and a 3-0 halftime lead for Buford.
“That little sophomore kicker has had a great year,” said Simpson. “That was probably his 12th or 13th field goal (of the season) and he just made it through there, but it ended up being huge.”
The second half was dominated by Buford’s defense. In the fourth quarter, several lost-yardage plays hemmed up the Golden Lions’ prolific rushing offense. The Golden Lions had been averaging 43.5 points per game in the playoffs, but finished this game with just three points and 201 yards of total offense.
“It was all 11 (defenders),” said Standard. “It was guys fitting together and playing together. You’ve got to be so disciplined to play that offense. If you had told me the other day we could hold those guys to a field goal, I’d have said ‘you’re crazy.’”
For Buford, the state championship comes as vindication after an offseason of wondering “what if” after a heart-breaking overtime loss to Calhoun in last season’s AA championship. Simpson’s program also had to overcome to forfeiture of two wins earlier in the season due to the use of an ineligible player. Buford won each game by more than 60 points.
Due to the two forfeits (which came in region games), the Wolves took the No. 3 seed out of Region 7 and had to play their last three playoff games on the road prior to today’s trip to the Georgia Dome.
“Sitting in the room with my seniors saying ‘Guys, we have to forfeit two game for something that’s not your fault,” said Simpson of the forfeits. “And them saying, ‘Coach, it’s okay. We have decided what we’re going to do.’ They just had a resolve that is so special. It’s something I’ve never been around. Just a really neat group.”
The Wolves have now won eight state titles and seven since 2001. It was the program’s first championship at the Class AAA level.