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December 9, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
When Buford (Ga.) High entered the Georgia Dome Friday afternoon, it had more on its mind than just the Class AA state final. After having won it the previous four years, it had bigger ambitions.
At No. 8 in the RivalsHigh 100, it wanted to secure its spot as one of the top teams in the nation - and it wanted to prove itself as the best team in what RivalsHigh considers the best high school football state in the land.
Four quarters and one overtime later, it found out just how good Georgia is.
Calhoun (Ga.) High took advantage of four turnovers - including one in overtime - to shock Buford, 27-24.
"We were the underdog in this one," Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said after the game. "But I had a feeling."
And an opportunistic squad. One that finally got over the Buford hurdle.
Calhoun had lost its previous four games against Buford - including three in state title games - but was 53-0 against the rest of the state in that time period.
It wasn't easy. Calhoun triumphed despite allowing two late Buford scores, which sent the game into OT.
"Turnovers hurt us," Buford coach Jess Simpson told reporters at halftime - after a long second-quarter drive resulted in a lost fumble in the red zone.
It was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Buford got the ball first in overtime, but lost the ball on a fumble on its first play. Adam Griffith then kicked the game-winning field goal on its first play to give Calhoun its first state title since 1952.
"We found a way to win," Lamb said. "It is great to finish it off with a championship."
The game started slowly as each team missed a field goal in the first quarter.
Buford opened the scoring with a 33-yard field goal; Calhoun answered with a 29-yard kick of its own.
And that is when the turnovers started to play a factor.
Buford had forced a Calhoun punt and took over with plus field position. It drove inside the 5-yard line but then fumbled it away on the 3.
Calhoun then drove the length of the field, connecting on a 63-yard screen pass on third down to Darius Washington from Taylor Lamb, to take its first lead of the game.
The tunnel screen and running back screen would be frequent play calls as Calhoun used the aggressiveness of Buford against it.
"We answered their scores with ours," Simpson said.
But Buford did not match the intensity or fundamentals in the second half.
Buford went three-and-out on its first two possessions. On Calhoun's second drive of the second half, Buford gave up a costly personal foul penalty on third down to extend the drive. Lamb would use the extension to his benefit as he ran in a touchdown from 15 yards out. After a two-point conversion, Calhoun had an 18-10 lead.
The game was turning. Buford had another three-and-out - and in a show of its frustration, actually passed the ball on all three downs. Buford has been at an almost five-to-one passing offense this season.
Calhoun capitalized with a 46-yard Griffith field goal to stretch the lead to 21-10 just minutes into the fourth quarter.
On its next possession, Buford turned it over again. This time a fumble on its own 30 would result in another Griffith field goal and a 24-10 lead with just over two minutes to play.
With 1:12 to play, Buford threw what appeared to be a game-ending interception, but it was a crucial Calhoun mistake that extended the game. Double personal-foul penalties gave Buford the ball and 30 yards of untimed offense.
Its next play was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Paris Head.
With three timeouts remaining Buford still had life and enough time to work some magic.
First it held Calhoun to a three-and-out. Then, on the punt, Andre Johnson broke through and took out the punter, separating him from the ball. When Dillon Lee scooped it up and ran it in from 41 yards out, it was a new ball game.
In a span of 33 seconds, Calhoun went from celebration to solitude.
"Mentally we were out of it," Lamb said. "We almost gave it away but we found a way to regroup."
It regrouped by forcing the final Buford turnover.
For Buford, the loss will knock it out of the Top 10 and out of the top spot in Georgia. It will remain ranked, but the team was hoping for so much more than that.