ATLANTA — There’s clutch, then there’s the unbelievable.
Whatever you want to call it, the Buford Wolves are making the comeback in the state championship game seem like a routine day in the park.
For the second consecutive season, Buford needed an extra frame to pull out an improbable win in the state title game.
In 2019, Hayden Olsen kicked a field goal to beat Warner Robins in the Class 5A title game. This time, the defense forced a Caleb McDowell fumble inside the 5-yard line to preserve a 34-31 victory over Lee County in overtime to win the Georgia High School Association Class 6A crown at Georgia State Stadium.
Alejandro Mata booted a 26-yard field goal on the Wolves opening possession to give them the lead. But Lee County’s high-powered offense had been nigh unstoppable in the second half.
And it looked bleak for Buford the play before the fumble when the Trojans’ Chauncey Magwood was pushed four yards by his massive offensive line to give them a 1st-and-goal at the Buford 4. But Jake Pope stood up McDowell at the 3, punched the ball out, and River Wilson pounced on the loose ball to seal the win.
The Wolves’ defensive leader Tommy Beuglas, who led the team with 7 1/2 tackles and a half sack, said they talked in the huddle about someone making a play.
“I tripped the guy a little and they stripped him and jumped on the ball and game over,” Beuglas said. “To do it twice in overtime is just surreal and more than you can really ask for. For the defense to be a big reason we won this game is unbelievable.”
“We told the guys that if they can get the ball, get a fumble, we can still win the game,” Buford coach Bryant Appling said. “The kids just kept trying to find a way, kept ripping at the ball, and they finally did.”
The Wolves (13-1) battled back from three second-half deficits but got a 16-yard touchdown pass from Ashton Daniels to Isaiah Bond to tie the game at 31 with just 46 seconds left in regulation. Daniels was 6-of-7 for 58 yards on the game-tying drive. It was similar to the game-tying drive in the waning moments he marched the Wolves on against Warner Robins in 2019.
Daniels may go down as one of the all-time clutch players in Buford history.
“He’s just an even-keeled kid and one of the best leaders we have,” Appling said of Daniels. “What can I say, he’s just clutch. He just knows how to get the ball in the right person’s hands at the right time and never makes mistakes.”
It was a classic final, even though the two teams played to a scoreless standstill in the first quarter. But the opening period wasn’t without its moments.
The Wolves had a 44-yard TD run by Dylan Wittke called back on a penalty then they were stopped on downs at the Trojans 44 on the next play. The Trojans then drove to the Buford 8 but Alex Collins missed a 25-yard field goal attempt with 6:21 left in the opening frame.
It stayed that way until early in the second quarter. Buford got to the Trojans 9 after a 38-yard run by Victor Venn on the final play of the first quarter. Four plays later Daniels scored on fourth down on a 1-yard sneak to give the Wolves a 7-0 lead.
But the Trojans answered right back when McDowell, their return extraordinaire, took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 8 seconds later.
Then Buford countered that on its next drive when Daniels connected with Bond on a 53-yard bomb to reclaim the lead 14-7 with 8:43 left in the half.
But McDowell struck again returning the next kickoff 34 yards to the Buford 32 and then scored on a 32-yard run on the next play as Lee County tied it up again at 14 just 15 seconds later.
After no points in the first 13 minutes, the teams accounted for four touchdowns in a 1:46 span.
Lee County looked poised to take its first lead late in the first half chewing up over five minutes and driving to the Buford 12. But a fourth-down pass into the end zone was incomplete with 30 seconds left in the half, and the Wolves ran out the final moments to go to the locker room tied.
The Trojans finally did take their first lead of the game, 21-14, early in the third quarter when Magwood found Jevel Furgerson for a 46-yard touchdown pass when two Buford defenders fell down. That moment marked the first time Buford had trailed since its season-opening loss to North Cobb.
The Buford defense made its first major impact on the Trojans' next drive forcing another Collins field goal miss from 43-yards. The Buford offense took that momentum to tie the game at 21 on a 34-yard TD run by CJ Clinkscales late in the third quarter.
The teams traded field goals early in the fourth quarter and Lee County scored what seemed to be a 21-yard game-clinching touchdown run by Magwood with just 1:58 left.
But Daniels and the offense went to work to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“Almost every championship game I’ve been a part of at Buford seems like it’s like this. It’s never easy,” Appling said. “These seniors deserve all the credit. They know what I expect of them. They did all the talking this past couple of weeks. They took the bull by the horns and led the way.”
McDowell was a one-man wrecking crew for Lee County. He finished with 289 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Buford outgained the Trojans 398-390, but it was the passing game with Daniels finishing 13-of-17 for 192 yards and 2 TD passes that offset the Wolves’ modest by their standard 181 rushing yards, with just 69 in the second half.
Buford also added to its own state record with titles in now six different GHSA classifications.
Lee Co......0.....14....7....10...0-- 31
Buford......0.....14....7....10...3 -- 34
B -- Daniels 1 run (Mata kick) 7-0, 10:14
L -- Caleb McDowell 95 kickoff return (Hunt kick) 7-7, 10:02
B -- Bond 53 pass from Daniels (Mata kick) 14-7, 8:43
L -- McDowell 32 run (Hunt kick) 14-14, 8:28
L -- Furgerson 46 pass from Magwood (Hunt kick) 21-14, 9:52
B -- Clinkscales 34 run (Mata kick) 21-21, 2:57
L -- Collins 24 FG 24-21, 11:51
B -- Mata 22 FG 24-24, 10:28
L -- Magwood 21 run (Hunt kick) 31-24, 1:58
B -- Bond 16 pass from Daniels (Mata kick) 31-31, 0:46
B -- Mata 26 FG 34-3