by: Stan Awtrey\/AJC.com Updated:
ATLANTA - The Buford defense lived up to its billing as the best in the state, putting the clamps on the the prolific St. Pius running game and coming away with a 10-3 victory in the Class AAA championship game.
The win gave Buford (12-3) its fourth state championship in five years and its first since moving up in classification. It was the school’s ninth state title and the eighth in 12 years.
“That’s the legacy these seniors have left you,” Buford coach Jess Simpson told his team after the game. “That’s what you juniors and sophomore have to live up to.”
Buford limited St. Pius to 104 yards rushing, 198 yards below its average, and only 184 total yards. St. Pius had only three runs that exceeded 10 yards. The St. Pius defense was equally rugged and allowed Buford only 178 total yards, 189 below its average.
The difference in the game came down to one play early in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-1 at the 39, Buford quarterback Taylor Mitchell pitched the ball to Dontravious Wilson, who headed to the right. Wilson got lost in a crowd and, with Jordan Perlotte acting as the lead blocker, emerged from the pack for a 39-yard touchdown run with 9:10 remaining.
“We couldn’t hit the one play we needed and they did,” said St. Pius coach Paul Standard. “That was the difference in the ball game.”
Wilson, who has committed to Western Kentucky, wound up with 59 yards on 12 carries. St. Pius was led in rushing by Ryan Braswell, who carried 17 times for 88 yards; his only big burst was a 41-yard run.
No. 7-ranked St. Pius (12-3) set the tone for the game on its first possession. The Golden Lions were able to effectively run their option offense, with quarterback Jack Spear taking the lead, and drove to the Wolves 24 yard line in 13 plays. But on fourth-and-1, Braswell was hit head-on by Korrie Rogers for no gain to end the threat.
Neither team did much until No. 3-ranked Buford got the ball with 1:33 left in the half and raced downfield to set up a 43-yard field goal from Matthew Bonadies.
St. Pius tied the score on its first possession of the second half. The Golden Lions used 10 plays to get to the 30, where Thomas O’Leary kicked a 47-yard field goal, his longest of the season, to make it 3-3 with 4:38 remaining.
Pius had two possessions in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t move it against Buford. The first one resulted in a punt and the final ended with a couple of sacks.
“Our defense played with reckless abandon,” Standard said. “Everything Buford got they earned. I think their size was probably the difference at the end.”
It was an emotional game for Buford, which dedicated the season to former assistant coach Ryan Daniel, who died suddenly in January while playing a pickup basketball game. There were photos of Daniel taped up in the locker room, with a message extolling the Wolves to “Play for something bigger than yourself.” The Buford jerseys even had the “RD” printed in gold letters in Daniel’s honor.